Doctors and nurses from Golden Valley Health Centers (GVHC) in Turlock, Modesto, Merced and Los Banos are concerned their clinics may turn into valleys of death if recently hired CEO Tony Weber gets his way.
A group of about 50 total Golden Valley Health Center doctors, nurses, staff and family members from Turlock, Modesto and Merced braved the rain on Thursday to fight for patients’ care at an intense, but peaceful, picket-rally held outside the private Merced residence of John Price, President of the GVHC board of directors.
The GVHC employees showed up at Price’s home after a board meeting was suddenly changed to Price’s home in an effort to avoid heated confrontation with the employees — although he claimed it was a “Christmas Party,” even after several other board members and GVHC executives such as Chief Financial Officer Lue Thao just happened to show up at his house carrying a binder.
At one point four Merced County Sheriff Deputies showed up — each in their own cruiser. But they quickly left after they realized it was an actual board meeting, a peaceful rally, and they were dealing with medical professionals who were unlikely to turn violent.
Doctors, Nurses Worried about Patient Access
The employees who are calling for action, which includes a list of 150 signed supporters including doctors, nurses and other medical professionals say they are upset over recent workload mandates, cuts and terminations they feel will affect patients health care and access to doctors.
In May long-time GVHC Director Michael Sullivan retired and he was replaced by Weber. More than 150 employees signed an open-letter to the GVHC Board of Directors accusing that Weber could be involved “in a potential fraud scheme” aimed at increasing profits on the backs of patients for the federally funded, non-profit organization.
“Mr. Tony Weber, recently initiated a new scheme to overload doctors with patients, thereby decreasing visits and consequently maximizing profits at the expense of patient care and quality,” the letter reads.
Employees say the new management team wants doctors to see six new patients per day, or 30 per week, which equals 1,440 new patients per doctor over the next year, but doctors say they are already at max capacity.
The employees say that by making doctors see more patients than they can handle, it decreases the opportunity for patients to see their doctor as much or at all — which can seriously affect their health and create a ripple effect at other emergency rooms and urgent care facilities throughout Stanislaus and Merced Counties.
GVHC first opened in 1972 to help migrant farm workers and now operates more than 20 clinics that provides service to 100,000 patients, many of whom are low-income or are part of an underserved population of farmworkers and the uninsured.
The formula is that the more patients doctors see, the more insurance companies pay GVHC. This is known as a “capitation” plan.
“Capitation is a payment arrangement where insurers pay a physician or group of physicians a set amount for each enrolled person assigned to them, per period of time, whether or not that person seeks care,” the letter reads. “Under a capitation payment model, increasing load and decreasing visits will allow GVHC to reap windfall profits at the expense of patient care and quality.”
Employees say this could amount to fraud, in addition to patient care concerns, the employees want the GVHC Board of Directors and the State Department of Labor Standards Enforcement to launch an investigation into Weber’s activities.
Weber did not return numerous phone calls from TurlockCityNews.com requesting comment.
GVHC Employees Fear Retaliation by Weber
Dr. Liza Marie Pham spoke on behalf of many of her fellow doctors and employees who fear retaliation from Weber.
“They are going to destroy 40 years of work,” said Pham.
Apparently the employees may not be wrong in fearing retaliation. In 2007, Weber was a defendant in a whistleblower lawsuit in Fresno federal court; he and his co-defendants agreed to pay $400,000 to the U.S. Government and the federal government awarded the plaintiff $100,000. The plaintiff accused Weber, who was the CFO for Family Healthcare Network at the time, and his co-defendants of fraud in obtaining federal grant funding.
Since taking his post as CEO of GVHC in May, Weber fired 17-year Chief Medical Officer Dr. Silvia Diego and the first Latina member of the California Medical Board, accepted the resignation of former interim CEO Christine Noguera and Nursing Director Connie Diers, terminated the manager of GVHC West Modesto Clinic and a former grants manager.
On top of all that — what really has the doctors fired up — is that he hired George Conklin, a physicians assistant, as chief medical officer.
“There is a prevailing sense of fear, there is no freedom to express oneself, without fear of retaliation from the leadership team,” Pham wrote in a letter to the board.
Alleged Racism, Wrongful Termination, Hostile Work Environment
Also in the letter, Pham documents heated exchanges at board meetings, accuses Weber of wrongful termination, creating a hostile and divided work environment, harassment of providers and employees, discrimination and patient abandonment.
In one section of the letter, she accused Chief Human Resource Officer Michael Buda of outright racially biased comments that he says he didn’t remember.
“Mr. Buda verbally expressed racist and discriminatory comments against foreign medical graduates,” Pham wrote in a letter. “More specifically, Mr. Buda stated the following: ‘that doctors of foreign countries do not receive adequate medical training and GVHC does not want to have a reputation for hiring lesser qualified physicians.’”
“Despite Mr. Buda’s selective memory… As a foreign medical graduate, I am disgusted and insulted at the blatant discrimination against foreign medical graduates by Mr. Buda, who may have violated one or more attorney ethics rules with his racially charged and discriminatory statement,” continued Pham in the letter. “In fact, Section 330 of the PHS Act requires FQHCs to design culturally and linguistically appropriate health services programs. GVHC relies on foreign medical graduates and the foreign language training of foreign graduates in order to meet the requirements of Section 330. I myself speak medical Spanish, in addition to English and Tagalog, and my ethnic background includes Filipino, Chinese and German. Many of GVHC’s foreign graduate providers have similar diverse backgrounds and speak multiple languages as well. This is what makes GVHC great.”
Ultimately employees say they want what is best for the patients, as one family nurse who didn’t want to be named out of fear for her job said, “It’s not about us versus them. This is about patient care. They don’t realize how much this will affect the patients and they don’t realize how much we care about our patients. While they leave everyday at 4:30 and take cocktail lunches, most of us are salaried employees who work 10, 12 hours a day and often don’t have lunch. That comes back to the patients and their quality of care. The board needs to hear what we have to say.”
TurlockCityNews.com was provided with several letters from doctors and employees, which can be found below.