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Some on Clinicas board return

April 11, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — In the ongoing saga of the embattled Clinicas De Salud Del Pueblo, three board members who resigned last month returned this week.

That latest change has come as the board agreed to ask its Sacramento-based attorney to look into whether any board members have a conflict of interest that would necessitate their removal from the board.

During a meeting this week, Miguel Miranda, Alma Estrada and Maria Lizaola — three of five board members who resigned in March — returned to the board. Two other members who resigned, Daniel Vernon and Rodolfo Piñon, did not return, which means the board still has two open seats it will eventually look at filling.


The board members resigned during a contentious meeting in March when the board splintered on the future of the agency — the leading issue dealt with the nonprofit health care agency's chief executive officer position.

Louis Lerma, who had led the agency for 19 years, resigned, a move brought on as some on the board sought his resignation.

An ad-hoc committee of board members was formed and it selected Brawley consultant George Thomas as interim CEO.

However, some board members said the committee overstepped its bounds when it hired Thomas outright and had him start work prior to Lerma leaving March 29.

The debate over Thomas spilled into the board meeting March 28, during which it was decided Thomas' hiring was premature.

Some on the board called on Lerma to continue as CEO while a permanent replacement was sought, but the majority of the board voted against Lerma staying on. That action prompted Miranda, Estrada, Lizaola and Piñon to resign. Vernon had resigned earlier in that meeting.

Those board members who remained selected Esperanza Sykora, Clinicas' business manager, as interim director while a search is conducted for a permanent CEO.

Clinicas employees have continued to charge that some board members have a conflict of interest and should step down. They also have alleged that some board members have been abusive and harassed employees during the conflict over the agency's future.

Miranda said this morning he returned to the board to act in the best interest of Clinicas.

"If it is going to be for the betterment of Clinicas, I will stay," Miranda said, but added certain steps must be taken, including determining whether some board members have conflicts of interest.

The board Monday approved having its Sacramento-based attorney, John Fredenburg, review the issue and determine whether any board member has a conflict.

The board also opted to discontinue the services of local attorney Steve Walker, hired just a month earlier to represent the board as it searches for a CEO.

As for the use of Fredenburg to review potential conflicts of interest, Sykora said, "The evaluation will be based on the law for nonprofit corporations."

During the meeting in March employees lashed out at two board members — a mother and daughter — as particularly having a conflict of interest. Those two board members, Teresa Sandoval and her daughter Maricela Solorzano, operate a nonprofit agency in the Imperial Valley — Fuerza Campesina Inc. — that sub-contracts with Clinicas.

Clinicas records show Fuerza Campesina received a check from Clinicas for $3,435.60 on Jan. 8.

In addition, the California Endowment announced in February that Clinicas will receive a grant of up to $500,000 as part of a new agricultural workers health program. The endowment lists Fuerza Campesina as a grantee with Clinicas.

Sykora declined to comment on Fuerza or any individual board member who may have a conflict. She said only that all board members would be reviewed.

Sykora said since she has taken over as interim director, all employees have been notified of what the agency is doing to address their concerns.

She also said there is a sense of unity in place toward addressing the challenges the agency is facing.

Vivian Perez, manager of Clinicas' Brawley clinic, who has been vocal about the need for some board members to step down, said she is pleased the board is moving forward with a review on the potential conflicts of interest.

Still, Perez, a candidate for the interim director position, has hired an attorney, Frank Oswalt of Horton, Knox, Carter and Foote in El Centro, to represent her and other employees in regard to conflicts of interest and alleged harassment. Perez said no legal action has been taken yet.

She said more than 870 signatures on a petition calling for some board members to step down have been gathered from the community.

Santiago Torres, president of the Clinicas board, said the board is attempting to address all concerns.

"We are going to try to work it out with employees," he said, adding, "I think we will work it out as board members."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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