Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias and Community Health System are embroiled in a war of words over conflict of interest allegations levied at the healthcare provider’s board.
Caught in the crossfire is a top city official who was dragged into the fray by Arias due to her position on Community’s board.
The backstory: Arias penned a letter on Feb. 6 to the governing board of Community Medical Centers outlining his concerns, which stemmed from a 2022 McClatchy report accusing board members of directing state and federal hospital funds generated by Fresno’s Community Regional Medical Center to Clovis Community Hospital.
- Arias accused Community of relocating specialty services – such as cancer, cardiothoracic and pulmonary care – to Clovis.
- He also went after Board Chair Farid Assemi, who is a co-owner and board member of California Health Sciences University, for a conflict of interest regarding any deals the university has with Community.
- Ruth Quinto, an Assistant City Manager for Fresno who oversees the city’s finance department, also faced criticism from Arias. The city councilman said her position on Community’s board is incompatible with her job with the city, alleging she plays a part in deciding the health care providers for city employees.
State of play: Arias requested to meet with the board to sort through what he called “these extremely troubling allegations.”
- “[Y]our board’s choices to shift state and federal funding away from the downtown hospital that generated them to your Clovis facility has resulted in substantial and ongoing transfers of state and federal dollars to serve a wealthier, whiter patient population, violating the statutory purpose of ensuring better access and better care to vulnerable low-income uninsured and Medi-Cal patient populations,” Arias wrote.
The big picture: Community President and CEO Craig Castro wrote a letter in response late last week and said Community has reviewed the accusations with outside legal counsel and is confident that the board members have been excellent stewards and have acted in accordance with state and federal laws.
Castro’s response: “It seems now, more than ever, efforts would be focused on finding ways to support healthcare providers, rather than continuing with misguided attacks,” Castro wrote.
- Castro defended Community’s investments in the Clovis hospital, pointing to the significant growth in the area and the ability to build much-needed bed capacity faster and more efficiently at that campus.
- “While your letter implies that investment in Clovis detracts from resources for Fresno, the opposite is true,” Castro wrote. “The Clovis Community expansion has helped our system keep pace with the growing need for inpatient beds in the Fresno/Clovis metropolitan area. About 50% of patients hospitalized at Clovis Community are residents of the City of Fresno. To be clear, funding for this expansion came from more than $6=560 million in bond funding assigned specifically for the Clovis project, private donations, and from funds generated by Clovis Community.”
- Castro clarified that Community receives funds from the Hospital Quality Assurance Fee program for care already provided, and those funds are not earmarked by the government for any future expenses or facilities.
- Castro also informed Arias that Quinto’s responsibilities with the city do not involve choosing health providers for city employees.
- “Lastly, you must be aware that in her role with the City of Fresno, Ruth Quinto has no decision-making authority to choose health providers for City employees,” Castro said. “All such decisions related to health benefits are selected by the Fresno City Employees Health and Welfare Trust. Neither Ms. Quinto nor any of her direct reports are Trustees of that Trust.”