Trustees called to resign from California hospital's board over conflicts of interest

An editorial published Aug. 25 in The Fresno Bee calls on board members that operate Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, Calif., to resign, alleging they have "prioritized personal interests over patients."

The editorial is a result of a two-year-long investigation by the newspaper.

Among other things, the editorial contends that the board of trustees has focused on development of Clovis (Calif.) Community Medical Center to the detriment of Community Regional Medical Center, the flagship facility hospital of Community Medical Centers.

"Money that rightly should have been used to strengthen older CRMC buildings against earthquakes has instead, by board decision, been invested in gleaming new buildings and specialty care at the Clovis campus. Close to $1 billion in expansion has occurred there," The Fresno Bee editorial board wrote.

Hospitals in California are currently working to comply with the state's 2030 state seismic safety requirements. The editorial was published two days after the collapse of a deal Aug. 23 between Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and the California Hospital Association to change earthquake standards in the state. The California Hospital Association has been pushing lawmakers to narrow the scope of and delay the seismic safety requirements. Meanwhile, the union has pushed for ordinances in California cities establishing a $25 minimum hourly wage for workers at private healthcare facilities.

Now, "Community Regional faces the possible loss of its license to operate until those structures are brought into compliance. Those buildings, dating to the 1950s and '60s, house 90 percent of the hospital's beds," The Fresno Bee editorial states.

The editorial board contends that part of the issue is conflicts of interest among certain board members, including board chair Farid Assemi. Mr. Assemi and a fellow board member, Flo Dunn, opened and operate the California Health Sciences University, a for-profit pharmacy and osteopathic medical school near the Clovis medical center. Ms. Dunn is no longer on the board, but Mr. Assemi "let her sit in on meetings as a 'guest,' a strange and virtually unheard-of arrangement." She has even been allowed to work on contracts, despite having no official board role, The Fresno Bee editorial board wrote.

The editorial also points to current board member Susan Abundis, who served on the California Health Sciences University's board while also on the hospital board and is a former banker for Mr. Assemi. Additionally, the editorial board also said another trustee, developer Jerry Cook, "sold land to CMC across from the Clovis hospital in 2013 while on the CMC board," and that "a newer board member, Karen McCaffrey, sold … property to CMC in 2017."

A spokesperson from Community Medical Centers was drafting a statement at the time of publication. The story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Read the full editorial here

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