YUCCA VALLEY — Seven of nine members of the Community Health Center board of directors quit during a special meeting Thursday night, Nov. 1.
Most had letters of resignation written in advance.
The only action item on the agenda was a motion to appoint Morongo Basin Healthcare District CEO Jackie Combs as the acting executive director of the district’s Community Health Center clinics in Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms.
She will replace Ronald Stewart, whose final day on the job will be Nov. 8.
Stewart tendered his resignation to the board during a closed session Oct. 26. He was hired full-time by the district in March, Combs said. He had been working with the district as a consultant since November 2016, Combs said.
“This does not jeopardize the operations of the clinics,” Combs said after the meeting. “The clinics will stay open.”
After the mass resignation Combs said she was shocked and had no idea that would happen.
“I am disappointed in the outcome,” Combs said.
The clinic board met more than usual in October, including in several closed sessions. An Oct. 15 meeting was called to discuss an employment evaluation for Stewart.
After Thursday’s meeting Stewart said he could not comment to the media due to a non-disclosure agreement with the district.
“I signed an agreement,” Stewart said.
The Nov. 1 meeting started just after 5 p.m. when it was announced that the public meeting was called to announce a “major management restructure,” said Susan Madavan, who has served as the board chairwoman for the past five years.
“Ron has resigned and Jackie will be stepping in as executive director,” Madavan announced.
The health care district runs health centers in Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms that provide medical, dental and mental-health care. The nine members of the health clinics’ board are appointed by the Morongo Basin Healthcare District directors, who are elected by a public vote. The board meets monthly and reports to staff and the Morongo Basin Healthcare District board. About a month ago, the Community Health Center and the healthcare district board held a joint meeting behind closed door.
Once the single action item was addressed the board’s resignation letters began.
One by one board members read letters of resignation.
The first to read was Board Vice President Sue Tsuda.
“It is with great regret that I take this action since I am proud of the progress the center has made,” Tsuda, said praising Stewart’s leadership. “I had felt we were making significant progress in meeting that community need. However, the district board evidently does not share that assessment as expressed by the comments made at the meeting between the executive committee of the center and the health district board.”
Peggy Toney followed.
Toney, a board member for the past 14 months, said in her letter that the district board plans to “take actions that will result in the dissolution of the CHC board,” which could result in the loss of $1.5 million in federal grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration.
“The district board appears to believe that the requirements that HRSA imposes for strict oversight hamper the ability to effectively manage the clinic operations,” Toney wrote in her letter.
After the meeting, Combs said the district operates as a “public entity,” with the mission to “provide affordable, quality health care to the communities we serve.”
The clinics started as rural health clinics, in 2005 and advanced to become federally funded clinics in 2013, Combs said.
The Federally Qualified Health Center designation was awarded to the Morongo Basin Community Health Center in November 2013. This designation allows the clinics to receive grants and enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medi-Cal.
“If we continue as federally funded clinics we need to restructure the board,” Combs said. “That is not my decision.”
Combs said the district’s board and the federal Health Resources Services Administration will ultimately make the decisions on the clinic operations.
“I have to talk to HRSA to find out what’s next,” Combs said.
Laura Grabow, a longtime member, also resigned and read her letter.
“I have serious concerns about what is going on with the healthcare district and I resign,” Grabow said.
Madavan became visibly shaken and cried while reading her letter out loud.
“I agree with the other comments made by the other board members,” Madavan said. “This board has been a big part of my life over the last six years.”
Board member Rick Tagle also resigned.
Sandy Potts, who did not have a letter prepared, also resigned during the meeting. She said she would get her written resignation to the staff as soon as possible.
“I feel deep regret that Ron Stewart has resigned,” Potts said. I am going to miss this board … I feel such disappointment.”
Fred Simoneau, a new member, said he was a little lost on what was happening. He said in his short time on the board he has only witnessed “professionalism,” from the board and staff leaders. He did not resign on Thursday.
“I do not know what brought this all about,” he said. “If I can add value I’ll stay. If I can’t, I will leave.”
Mike Lopez, who was not present, requested Madavan read his letter publicly.
Lopez made numerous allegations about the district and Combs.
“I have no confidence in the incoming CHC executive director,” Lopez wrote in his letter, which alleges Combs “changed minutes of public meetings without authorization or notification.”
Combs said after the meeting the only part of the public meeting minutes that were changed included information that was in closed session, and not for the public.
Lopez and all the others requested their letters be attached to the minutes of the meeting as part of the public record.
Not present at the meeting: board members Mike Lopez and Bryan Goldfarb.
As an FQHC, the Morongo Basin Community Health Center cares for an underserved area or population, offers a sliding fee scale, provides comprehensive services, has an ongoing quality assurance program and has a governing board of directors.