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Heffernan hires staffers to pull subpoenaed records

May 23, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The Heffernan Memorial Hospital District board voted to hire two former hospital staffers at $10 an hour to pull files subpoenaed by a lawyer representing Calexico Hospital Management Group LLC, which includes former hospital administrators Randy Smith and Jay Ash and Brawley's Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo.

The management group is suing the state and the California Department of Health Services because it claims state health officials promised but failed to conduct an inspection of Calexico Hospital when it was administered by Smith and Ash in early to mid-1997. Clincas 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 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.

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The management group's lawyer, Dan Lawton of San Diego, said he also has subpoenaed former Gov. Pete Wilson.

Lawton hopes to prove that state health officials, working during Wilson's tenure as governor, did not conduct the inspection of Calexico Hospital because Smith and Ash hoped to provide services to recent immigrants from Mexico at the expense of the state. The inspection of the hospital that was never conducted is known as the Medicare/Medi-Cal survey.

Since state health officials 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.

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

That lawsuit was dismissed in September 2000 by Superior Court Judge Donal Donnelly without a trial. 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, 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.

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