Physicians from shuttered California hospital allege care quality declined under HCCA control

Physicians and patient advocates allege a significant decline in medical care occurred at Tulare (Calif.) Regional Medical Center — which closed in October 2017 — while under Healthcare Conglomerate Associates' control. Critics believe this care decline resulted in the endangerment and deaths of patients, according to The Business Journal.

Here are five things to know.

1. HCCA took control of TRMC in 2014, according to the Visalia Times-Delta. Under the group's oversight, the hospital allegedly relied on insufficient equipment that needed repairs. However, physicians claim TRMC was unable to install new equipment due to the hospital's poor credit for failing to pay vendors.

2. Lonnie Smith, MD, who was a physician at TRMC from 1994 to 2016 and served on the Tulare Local Healthcare District Board of Directors from 2006 to 2012, said the hospital's oral suction machine would sometimes malfunction during a case. In some instances, Dr. Smith said he had to cancel or reschedule cases with patients due to equipment issues. Several other reports claim the hospital's equipment was taped together, according to Citizens for Hospital Accountability in Tulare, an advocacy group dedicated to uncovering potential patient safety issues and looking into hospital boards.

3. Equipment issues and the hospital's ongoing issues with staffing shortages may have contributed to two TRMC patients' deaths, according to an investigation by the California Department of Public Health. The department alleged patients were wheeled out during their surgeries so staff could work on other cases due to a lack of operating room personnel.

4. TRMC's practices eventually came under the scrutiny of the hospital's medical executive committee, which was reportedly fired in January 2016, according to Citizens for Hospital Accountability and Dr. Smith. Dr. Smith alleged HCCA replaced the MEC with leaders who had problems with the old committee. The new MEC put in charge resulted in provisional status for the hospital's physicians.

5. Now, Tulare hospital administrators are taking out a $500,000 loan following approval by the board, which is the closed hospital's fourth money-borrowing move over the last two months, according to the Visalia Times-Delta.

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