Health · Visalia

Tulare hospital board taps Smith, one of its own, to take helm as CEO

The Tulare Local Healthcare District, the public agency that owns the rebounding Adventist Health Tulare, has a new boss starting next month, its board announced on Wednesday.

Phil Smith, a recent addition to the Tulare hospital board in May, was selected from a field of 23 applicants to replace outgoing chief Sandra Ormonde.

Smith was tapped in May to fill a vacancy on the board created by Tulare City Council member Steve Harrell’s election to that body.

Now, he replaces Ormonde, who helped navigate the district through its highly-publicized bankruptcy process following the ouster of Dr. Yorai Benzeevi, who served as the hospital district’s manager through his for-profit management firm, Healthcare Conglomerate Associates.

Benzeevi’s tenure came to ahead following a heated 2017 recall election that saw key allies booted from office and reformers win seats.

Benzeevi’s efforts to hire a Israel-based intelligence services to run disinformation campaigns relative to the recall election were the subject of an 2019 exposé by The New Yorker magazine’s Ronan Farrow.

Last year, Benzeevi and two key associates were indicted on 46 counts of embezzlement, money laundering, conflict of interest, and misappropriation of taxpayer funds, among others.

During Ormonde’s tenure, Adventist Health was retained to serve as the professional hospital administrator and operator. The district has also reconstituted a committee to guide construction on the hospital’s long-suffering, 16-year tower expansion project.

With the move to hire Smith, the local hospital district will have two vacancies on its board.

In October, Senovia Gutierrez, a key member of the reformer group who won a seat on the board following a 2017 recall election, resigned her post as she was relocating out of the area.

Les Hubbard is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.