Citizens Group Sues Palomar Health Over Alleged Brown Act Violation
A citizens group that alleges the Palomar Health District violated California's open meeting law when it awarded contracts to a new emergency care provider filed a lawsuit Friday against the health care district and its board of directors.
Citizens to Save Palomar Health alleges the health care district violated the Brown Act when it awarded key emergency, hospitalist and intensivist contracts to Emergent Medical Associates and its sister company Benchmark earlier this year for staffing at Palomar's hospitals in Escondido and Poway. The agreement replaces the one Palomar Health held with Vituity Healthcare & Medical Staffing Services, which was in place for more than 40 years for emergency doctors.
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The plaintiffs, who seek to void the health care service agreements with EMA and Benchmark, allege the vote to approve them happened without proper notice to the public during a special mid-June closed session meeting.
"The vote to approve the services contract was a culmination of a secretive backroom process that excluded the public and certain board members, excluded/disregarded the opinions and recommendations of Palomar Medical Staff, and failed to provide the public with the most basic notice," according to the lawsuit filed Friday in San Diego Superior Court.
A Palomar Health spokesperson declined comment, saying the district does not comment on pending litigation.
In a June statement announcing the agreement, Palomar Health President and CEO Diane Hansen said EMA was selected "through a competitive process because they are most aligned with Palomar Health's strategic goals moving forward."
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The statement said EMA pledged to offer employment to around 100 physicians and 45 non-employee staff "affected by this change" and that based on prior experience, "Palomar Health estimates 90%-95% of affected physicians and non-employee staff will stay in their current capacities at Palomar Health."
Hansen said, "Our community and patients expect us to be good stewards of our resources. EMA's proposal allows us to retain all our staff, plus reinvest saved resources to upgrade patient care."
But the citizens group alleges the bids from EMA and Benchmark were opposed by the medical staff and that Palomar's selection of the new service providers "has already severely and drastically impacted the San Diego community."
The group says that as a result, a large number of Palomar's doctors took a vote of no confidence in Palomar's administration and "have left and/or are being let go." They also allege the move has increased patient wait times, reduced services and led to overworked doctors and nurses.