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BCHF: Changing Image

Will it make a difference?


Last updated 8/1/2022 at 11:27am

Borrego Community Health Foundation (Borrego Health) has been very busy. And the Foundation’s Crisis Communications Team has been doing a good job of advising the media of Borrego Health’s activities. Maybe, it’s because they are tired of having their spin upstaged by the media. Or, the Trustees have finally given their publicist free reign to try to improve their image.

The key message is “Change for the Better.” Yet, employees worry there will be no change, telling the Borrego Sun that leadership involved in putting Borrego Health’s continued existence at risk is still there. Some like Corina Velasquez, are not only still on the payroll, they are being promoted.

Then there are new people – a new CEO and a new chief medical officer. People seemingly are more qualified to lead Borrego Health through the dangerous legal and financial waters inherited from the founder and former, now deceased, CEO Bruce Hebets. Boasting changes for the better from new officers, to downsizing the number of clinics, the Foundation’s media consultant, Dan Kramer, is working overtime to put a positive spin on the future.

That’s hard to do, given the ongoing fraud investigation; the lawsuits, financial set-backs, closing clinics; and firing employees. To Kramer’s credit, Trustees announce some bad news. But it’s generally recycled to represent the path to better, quality service. However, the Trustees keep the lawsuits close to their chest, never voluntarily advising the media of the growing number of court cases involving Borrego Health and its Board of Trustees. Or, the actual ongoing costs of rehabilitation. The Trustees, as the fiscal guardians of the entity responsible for oversight, adhering to FQHC license, and federal and state rules and regulations, are seen by courts and the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) as the accountable parties.

While it can be assumed because of the legal vulnerability due to the investigations of fraud and corruption, BCHF is losing money. Closing and transferring clinics, not to mention employee layoffs are all sure signs of economic distress. The latest news is that three Riverside clinics are being transferred to another FQHC – Neighborhood Health.

Who is to blame for Borrego Health’s fall from grace is yet to be sorted? However, it’s clear who will suffer: the 400 plus employees that have already lost their livelihood; and patients that have relied on Borrego Health as their only source of accessible medical care.

Announcing new hires with the implied idea they are going to change the organization for the better, actually means the new leadership are going to try to straighten out the mess left by former CEO Hebets, his friends and family. But then there’s the former leadership and Hebets’ cronies, like Velasquez, still on the payroll.

The new interim CEO is Rose MacIsaac. She is succeeding interim CEO, Dr. Edgar Bulloch. The media release dated July 11, 2022, announced, “Trustees will be advancing MacIsaac from her role as chief financial officer at Borrego Health, which she took on earlier this year. Bringing over 10 years of experience in healthcare leadership, MacIsaac previously served as chief financial officer at Asian Health Services, One Community Health Sacramento, and OLE Health.” She will hold down this position while the organization conducts a search for a permanent CEO.

Note: Before giving Borrego Health kudos for upgrading the qualifications of officers, running the organization, remember DHCS imposed a “Corrective Action Plan” (CAP) on Borrego Health before the state would continue reimbursing Medical funds. One of the actions required was to replace certain officer’s, like Borrego Health’s Chief Financial Officer, with a person having appropriate qualifications and experience in fiscal management.

Kenneth Soda, M.D., MHA (EHML), has been named chief medical officer for the organization, effective June 27, 2022. He is replacing Dr. Alfredo Ratniewski, Executive Medical Officer, whose only qualifications, besides, keeping Hebets’ secrets, were selling Borrego Health his clinics for $7 million, with another sale denied by the state, and earning $700,000 annually for seeing a few patients at the El Cajon Clinic every now and then.

According to the media announcement, Dr. Soda brings over 20 years of clinical and executive expertise to Borrego Health, having served in a Chief Medical Officer capacity with both Dignity Health-Pacific Central Coast Health Centers Medical Group (Santa Maria, California) and Physician Health Partners, LLC’s, Colorado Community Health Alliance, and Colorado Medicaid Accountable Care Collaborative (Denver, Colorado). He also recently served in physician executive roles with Santa Clara County Health and Hospital System (San Jose, California).

Note: Dr. Ratniewski, has some magic glue, since he was still earning a salary in 2020 – 21, following the FBI investigation, and his questionable work history, but it’s Borrego Health’s announcement of an “organization-wide realignment and a new leadership team guaranteed to enhance the health system’s quality of practice and service” that have some managers questioning the organization’s sincerity. “Been there; heard that before,” one high level employee commented.

“Our goal,” stated Dr. Bulloch, in the media release, “is to continue to move forward with a leaner, more transparent, and quality driven organization focused on our core patient care services. The changes we’re announcing today are part of our ongoing commitment to our patients, communities and our valued employees to operate and lead Borrego in a fiscally responsible manner.

“With these changes will come more streamlined operations at the clinical level for better, more efficient delivery of quality healthcare. Our new leaner leadership structure will empower our leaders with the ability to make changes needed at the clinical level to ensure that every clinic in our organization runs as efficiently and safely as possible with an emphasis on value-based care,” Dr. Bulloch reported.

Among the more notable changes is a new leadership team, including Corina Velasquez, as Chief Operating Officer; Sergio Bautista as interim Chief Financial Officer; Victor Madero, Chief Health Plan Officer; and interim Chief Clinical Officer Jorge Cervantes MD.

New Leadership Recycles Some “Allegedly” Bad Actors:

So, it’s time to talk about Corina Velasquez, the former executive vice president of operations, she appears to be positioned over Chief of Operations, Mark Connelly, whom she has since replaced. Her title was “Executive Vice President of Operations,” and she made more money than Connelly. Was she there to watch over him to make sure he was doing what Hebets wanted? That must have made for interesting dynamics. Why did Borrego Health need two officers of operations? Since Borrego Health doesn’t have a president, why did Velasquez have a VP title? Maybe it was a perk from Hebets to let everyone know how special she is?

She’s been flying below the radar, yet employee sources tell the Sun that she was Hebets’ right hand person, fully compliant and knowledgeable of all of his questionable practices. In fact, according to one manager, “Everyone expected Hebets to name Corina as his replacement CEO.” As it turned out, he chose his attorney, Mikia Wallis, “Because Velasquez didn’t have the necessary education,” and, Hebets believed, “The optics wouldn’t be good.” Employees speaking to the Sun ask to remain anonymous for good reason.

These employees worry that there will be no change with Velasquez as chief operating officer, and with members of her family still on the payroll. Mikia Wallis is gone, so why is Velasquez still with Borrego Health? On the subject of money, hopefully, the new hires, won’t be making the same, over the top salaries the officers they’re replacing were making. Especially, with the reported new mandate “to operate and lead Borrego in a fiscally responsible manner.”

It would be appropriate if the changes included comparable salaries to peers in the industry, instead of the grandiose income and obscene benefits, untrained, unqualified people, like, Dr. Ratniewski, were paid for literally being nothing more than Hebets’ loyal figureheads. Actually, there may have been more nefarious reasons why some officers were paid so well. But that’s another story.

More Clinics Bite the Dust:

In addition to closing clinics in Barstow and San Bernardino, Borrego Health has announced signing a letter of intent (LOI) to transfer the Arlanza Family Health Center, Eastside Health Center A and Eastside Health Center B to Neighborhood Healthcare with an expected effective date of September 1, 2022.

Note: The Borrego Health Julian Clinic was transferred to San Ysidro Health in 2021.

The media announcement added, “The Borrego Health Executive Team and Board of Trustees have continued evaluating opportunities to address our financial challenges while also remaining true to our mission of improving the health of the populations in our service area,” said Edgar Bulloch, M.D., interim CEO.

“This collaboration advances both of those goals by ensuring our team members at each of the affected clinics have the option to transition their employment to Neighborhood Healthcare once the agreement is finalized, and the communities who count on those clinics for care will continue to have access to the same scope of services offered by a respected Federally Qualified Health Center”

Rakesh Patel, M.D., CEO of Neighborhood Healthcare, added, “We’re grateful for the opportunity to improve the health and happiness of communities supported by Arlanza Family Health Center and the Eastside clinics, as well as the team members at those facilities. “We have tremendous respect for how Borrego Health has delivered care in these communities and we’re looking forward to the prospect of building on that legacy.”

Oops, be careful what you wish for, Dr. Patel.

With the non-binding LOI in place, the organizations will engage in mutual due diligence to determine the details of the agreement. After a definitive agreement is signed and pending standard regulatory review and the satisfaction of customary closing conditions, the agreement is expected to be finalized by September 1, 2022. Research of Neighborhood Health turns up good reviews, and signs the organization is serious about quality patient care. For example, Neighborhood Health does home visits, offers transportation, and even posts annual financials on its web page. Borrego Health, if you are looking for some tips to improve care and credibility, start by following examples set by Neighborhood Health!

With so many clinics being outsourced, it’s important to ask, what will become of the Borrego Springs Clinic? Will the clinic become a casualty of the Foundation’s “meaner and leaner” changes?

Reportedly, not in favor with most of the Board of Trustees, especially, former Board Chairman, Dan Anderson, whose distaste for Borrego Springs has been well documented. Besides his dislike of all things Borrego, Anderson, as past chair of the Trustees, was planning to move Borrego Health administration to Riverside, and stacked the Board with Riverside residents, willing to follow his lead.

Anderson remains on the Board. Another high-level example of missed chances to actually clean up Borrego Health and make real changes. It would be nice if the Trustees would give the community advance notice of what is planned for the local clinic. Borrego Springs may be the last to know, and last to go, closing the door on the opportunity for the local residents to own, manage and make community-driven choices and changes at the home town clinic.

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