Palomar Health accused of open meeting violations with physician contract change

A citizens group is accusing Escondido, Calif.-based Palomar Health of violating an open meetings law when approving a controversial physician contract change, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune

An attorney hired by the group, which calls itself "Citizens to Save Palomar Health," sent a letter to the public healthcare district's seven elected directors. The group alleges that Palomar and its leaders lacked transparency when changing a longstanding physician staffing contract.

On June 21, Palomar said it reached an agreement on a three-year contract with emergency care provider Emergent Medical Associates and its subsidiary, Benchmark Hospitalists & Intensivists, to provide emergency physicians, hospitalists, intensivists and related support personnel for its hospitals in Escondido and Poway, Calif. Under the agreement, Emergent Medical will replace Vituity, which has provided the hospitals with intensivists for the last six years, hospitalists for eight years and emergency physicians for more than four decades. 

Some physicians have pushed back against the change, citing concerns that it could result in fewer physicians on duty and safety issues. Palomar Health and EMA argue that not much will change and that it will save money and operating efficiency with the deal.

In the letter, the attorney representing the group said some elected officials of the healthcare district engaged in "serial meetings" before making any decisions on the contract, and the process of approving the contract was "unlawful, lacked transparency and ran counter to the interests of the health, welfare and safety" of the community, according to the Union-Tribune. 

"We have facts that lead us to believe that there have been serial meetings, and that not all board members have been treated equally, if you will, in the process of presenting the service contracts," Kenneth Lounsbery, the group's attorney, told the Union-Tribune. 

Serial meetings are when a majority of board members take action on public business outside of public meetings. 

Palomar declined the Union-Tribune's request for comment about the letter. 

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