By Nancy Vigran Reporter for the Sun-Gazette
TULARE – Without a quorum on the matter during Tuesday night’s council meeting, the City of Tulare was unable to decide whether to award the Tulare Local Healthcare District (TLHCD) a $9 million line of credit.
This comes at a crucial time for the Healthcare District. It needs to pay off some settlement agreements with creditors that were due by the end of January.
The hope was for it to be settled Tuesday night, said Kevin Northcraft, TLHCD board president.
At the Jan. 15 City Council meeting, council voted to move forward with developing the paperwork for an intended loan by the City. The vote was 2-1 with two council members, Dennis Mederos and Greg Nunley recusing. At the Feb. 5 meeting Mederos and Nunley still recused. With Councilman Carlton Jones absent there was no quorum for discussion or a vote.
Jones told the Sun-Gazette he was unable to attend the meeting due to the last basketball game of the season for his son’s team. He also said he will not be available for the next scheduled council meeting on Feb. 19.
“This puts the hospital in a real bind,” Mayor Jose Sigala said. “Further delay of any action puts the hospital at risk.”
TLHCD currently owns the hospital facility along with Evolutions Fitness and Wellness Center and other office buildings. Tulare Regional Medical Center (Tulare’s hospital) is under an agreement of a lease to Adventist Health. Through its previous management firm of Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) bills mounted up while the District was paying the firm some $235,000 per month for its management services. Old District board members were recalled, and new ones fired HCCA.
The District filed bankruptcy and the hospital closed for one year. Through various discussions, Adventist Health stepped up to the plate and reopened the hospital on Oct. 15 despite having to wait for the overwhelming community support of Measure H. Measure H passed at the voter’s box in Nov. allowing the non-profit healthcare company to lease the hospital and take over management.
Nothcraft shared with the Sun-Gazette that the hospital does have another option of a $3 million loan through a financial institution at a much higher rate of interest. Through a City loan, the TLHCD board is looking to consolidate its loan efforts and at lower interest.
With the City’s interim city attorney, Mario Zamora, and finance director, Darlene Thompson having developed all of the paperwork, the Healthcare District is to hold a special board meeting Wednesday evening to approve the documents on its end. It has already voted to list Evolutions for sale in pursuit of options the City wanted considered.
Meanwhile, the City is attempting to arrange a special Council meeting with a quorum of Sigala, Jones, and Councilwoman Terry Sayre. A Thursday afternoon meeting has been rejected by Jones, who is scheduled for work at that time.
Jones is likely a “no” vote for the line of credit as he voted against it at the Jan. 15 Council meeting.
“There is no information that changes my position,” he said, adding he feels the line of credit is a risky move on the City’s end.
“My responsibility is to the City,” he added.
Jones said he will attend a special meeting, if he can.
“If it’s a time I can be there, I’ll be there,” he said.
His other suggestion is for either Mederos or Nunley to reconsider their recusals. Each has cited a conflict of interest. Nunley is currently negotiating the purchase of other vacant property from TLHCD. Mederos had represented THLCD board members in the past, pro-bono, and more importantly, he told the Sun-Gazette, his firm’s office, which he and his wife own, is adjoined to the hospital property on two sides.
“Decisions made that could potential enhance District property could enhance this property,” he said, and vice versa.
He felt it ethically prudent to recuse.