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Heffernan served with subpoena for hospital records

May 17, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The Heffernan Memorial Hospital District here has been served with a subpoena by the San Diego lawyer representing the Calexico Hospital Management Group LLC.

The Heffernan district's attorney, Eduardo Rivera, told the district board at a noontime meeting Thursday the subpoena requires the district to turn over copies of specific hospital records that are in the hospital's files.

Rivera didn't say what sort of records had been requested by the management group. He said the request was "vague."

To comply with the request, Rivera said the board could have to look into a method for hiring somebody "for the simple task of looking."

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Rivera predicted, "It's going to be a very, very difficult chore."

Contacted Thursday afternoon, the management group's attorney, Dan Lawton, said, "I would be glad to talk to the district, and Mr. Rivera, as to how this could be made easier. We want to spare the district any difficulty."

The management group, made up of former Calexico Hospital Administrator Randy Smith of Orange County and Jay Ash of San Diego, along with Brawley's Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo, has requested the records to buttress its case against the state of California and the California Department of Health Services.

The group is suing the state and the department because it claims state health officials promised but failed to conduct an inspection of the Calexico Hospital during the time it was administered by Smith and Ash from early to mid-1997. Clinicas de Salud was a partner in the management group but Smith and Ash's Divine Providence Health Care Systems ran the day-to-day operations.

The inspection is known as the Medicare/Medi-Cal survey.

The management group claims Calexico Hospital would have passed the survey and qualified to receive provider numbers with which it could have billed Medicare and Medi-Cal for services provided to indigent patients.

Since the Department of Health Services never conducted the survey and the management group never obtained the provider numbers, the group claims it was forced into bankruptcy.

The hospital closed in January 1998, seven months after Ash and Smith's group took over operations at the hospital.

After the management group filed an administrative claim in 1998 — which it claims was never acted upon by the state Department of Health — the group filed a lawsuit in Imperial County Superior Court in 1999 against the state, the Department of Health and various state employees.

That lawsuit was dismissed without a trial in September 2000 by Imperial County Superior Court Judge Donal Donnelly. Donnelly ruled the administrative claim had been filed after the statute of limitations, the lawsuit alleged different complaints than the original administrative claim and the group had no right to sue the state for alleged violations of the California constitution.

In October 2001, the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeals overturned two of Donnelly's rulings, allowing the management group to move forward on the first two of the three causes of action.

The decision does not reinstate the group's due process claims, alleging its state constitutional rights were violated, according to Lawton.

Smith and Ash will be allowed to sue in an attempt to recoup around $13 million that they claim to have lost due to the state's inaction.

Rivera told the board the district has a number of ways to respond to the subpoena. Those options will be discussed during a closed-session meeting in the near future.

Trustee Ray Falcon said the board needs to "start looking for someone right now."

Trustee Norma Apodaca asked Rivera how long it might take for someone to collect the reports specified in the subpoena. He said it would take someone with knowledge of the files roughly 30 working days.

Lawton said, "I would welcome a call from him (Rivera.) Can we narrow this down? How can we make it easier?"

Lawton hopes to secure a 2002 trial date.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or aclaverie@aol.com

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