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Hospital will stop seeing patients amid dispute, forcing them to travel for care

Tulare Regional Medical Center is suspending patient care amid a dispute with Healthcare Conglomerate Associates, but hopes to strike a deal with another company to operate the 112-bed hospital, clinics and other outpatient facilities.
Tulare Regional Medical Center is suspending patient care amid a dispute with Healthcare Conglomerate Associates, but hopes to strike a deal with another company to operate the 112-bed hospital, clinics and other outpatient facilities.

Tulare Regional Medical Center and clinics will not be open for patients beginning midnight Sunday, leaving the city without a hospital and health workers potentially without jobs.

The district issued a notice Thursday afternoon stating it is voluntarily suspending its license with the state of California to operate the 112-bed hospital, clinics and other outpatient facilities.

The district set Sunday to stop operations, but Kevin Northcraft, district president, said people indicated at a Wednesday night board meeting that 23 patients would be moved out of the hospital Thursday. And Niki Cunningham, a Fresno lawyer retained by the district board, said Thursday that she had been told by the California Department of Public Health that no new patients were being admitted.

Cunningham said she could not confirm information about the emergency department.

Healthcare Conglomerate Associates, which runs the hospital, did not return a call nor an email for comment.

We were left with few options to temporarily suspend it ourselves so we can open it up quickly and with less obstacles.

Kevin Northcraft, Tulare Local Healthcare District board president

The company and the district board have been in a legal dispute. A federal judge on Wednesday said the hospital could sever its contract with Healthcare Conglomerate Associates and find a new operator. The judge set Nov. 27 for the transition, but Northcraft said the company was not willing to work with the board and the decision to temporarily suspend the license was a step to avoid the state issuing sanctions and closing the hospital.

“We were left with few options to temporarily suspend it ourselves so we can open it up quickly and with less obstacles,” Northcraft said.

Northcraft said more than 500 employees of Healthcare Conglomerate Associates could be affected by the voluntary license suspension. Employees have said “they will be getting pink slips this weekend,” he said.

Patients will have to travel to other nearby hospitals. The three closest are Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia, Adventist Medical Center Reedley and Sierra View Medical Center in Porterville.

The district is working on a plan to reopen the hospital and clinics with a new management team. The district has approached Community Medical Centers, which operates the trauma center in downtown Fresno, Clovis Community Medical Center and Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital.

Community has to apply for approval from the state to take over operations, Cunningham said, and a contract has to be negotiated before the hospital can reopen. The California Department of Public Health has said it will fast-track the application, she said. “The board is hoping to have the hospital fully operational in 60 days … but we can’t pinpoint that.”

Michelle Von Tersch, vice president of communications and public affairs for Community, said the health system remains “willing to enter into an arrangement that will help Tulare Regional Medical Center achieve stability and continue delivering care to patients in its community. We don’t yet know what the desired start date, scope, or duration of that arrangement would be. But Tulare Regional plays a vital role in the south Valley, and, consistent with our mission, Community Medical Centers will assist the hospital district if we can.”

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter

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