Palomar Health in Escondido on Oct. 25, 2022.
Palomar Health in Escondido on Oct. 25, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

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More than a year after the Palomar Health District board of directors abruptly switched the medical group that provides Palomar Health’s doctors, the hospital district’s top staff and the new medical group’s founder are chipping in campaign donations to support members of the board majority that approved the deal. 

Palomar Health is a public healthcare district that operates Palomar Medical Center in Escondido and Pomerado Hospital in Poway. It’s governed by a seven-member board of directors that is elected by the public.  

Last year, Palomar Health’s board of directors approved a new three-year contract with Emergent Medical Associates (EMA) and its subsidiary, Benchmark, to provide emergency physicians, hospitalists, intensivists and other staff for its hospitals in Escondido and Poway. 

Hospitalists specialize in caring for hospitalized patients, and intensivists are physicians who focus on critically ill patients. 

In California, doctors don’t directly contract with healthcare providers, but belong to independent medical groups. Healthcare providers then contract with those medical groups to staff their hospitals. 

After a 4-2-1 vote by Palomar’s board of directors, EMA and Benchmark replaced Vituity Healthcare & Medical Staffing Services, which had provided Palomar with intensivists for six years, hospitalists for eight years and emergency physicians for more than 40 years. 

Palomar Health said in its initial statement that the decision had to do with saving money, and that the money would be used to purchase new equipment and technology. 

But the contracting change provoked backlash from doctors and nurses who warned that the significant staffing adjustments that came with the new contract, including an overall reduction in the number of physicians on duty, would reduce the hospital’s overall quality of care. 

Physicians took a vote of “no confidence” in the hospital’s executive leadership, citing a lack of transparency in the contract bidding process and contract negotiations. Doctors also took to the streets to protest the change in the weeks following the decision, but the hospital’s leadership didn’t budge. 

Christine Bauer, a registered nurse in Palomar’s Emergency Department, told Voice of San Diego that the doctors’ worst fears have since been realized. 

Bauer has been with Palomar Health for about 25 years. She said the quality of care since the contracting change has significantly decreased, citing staffing shortages, low morale, aging equipment and dangerously high emergency room wait times. 

Christine Bauer at her home in Vista on Oct. 21, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Staffing shortages are an industrywide problem because of COVID-19, but, according to Bauer, many doctors and seasoned nurses are leaving Palomar Health because of its decline in quality of care. 

“There’s a communication gap between upper administration and what’s happening on the ground,” Bauer said. “They know about the problems because it’s been public for quite some time, but they just see what they want to see.” 

Now this issue has become part of the election conversation. Bauer, like many others, is hoping that a new board will elevate the quality of the hospital system back to what it once was. 

But some of Palomar’s top executives and staff, as well as the founder of the new medical group are mobilizing to support members of the board majority that approved the contract change.   

“We have a board majority of five people – previously there were four – that are completely in alignment with the CEO,” said incumbent board candidate John Clark. “Out of the last couple hundred votes, there was never one time where it wasn’t the same four of them voting the same way.” 

Linda Greer, incumbent candidate and the current board chair, received a total of $9,000 or almost 30 percent of her total campaign contributions from Palomar Health COO Stephanie Baker, CFO Hugh King and CAO Ryan Olsen, according to the San Diego Registrar of Voters. She also received several other donations from members of Palomar Health’s senior leadership team. 

Greer, along with two new candidates – Rod Jones and Alejandro Paz – also received sizeable donations from a company called Palomar Hospital Partners, Inc. 

Palomar Hospital Partners, Inc. was founded in April 2021 by Irv Edwards. Edwards is also the founder and president of Emergent Medical Associates (EMA) and the principal of Benchmark, the health groups that Palomar contracted with in August 2021. 

Palomar Hospital Partners, Inc., EMA and Benchmark all list the same El Segundo address

Greer received more than $8,000 or 26 percent of her total contributions from Palomar Hospital Partners, Inc., while Jones and Paz each received almost $21,000 from the company. That’s 55 percent of Jones’ total campaign contributions and 76 percent of Paz’ total contributions

The three candidates, along with incumbent candidate Michael Pacheco, are running as a slate, meaning they’ve aligned themselves together because they’re running on a common platform; however, Pacheco did not receive similar contributions from Palomar staff and Palomar Hospital Partners, Inc. 

“It’s a conflict of interest, and it’s completely inappropriate,” said Dr. George Kung, former Pomerado Hospital chief of staff. 

Kung was with Palomar Health for almost 20 years and retired in 2000.  

“I’ve lost confidence in the hospital’s leadership,” Kung said. “They’re supporting board members who supported them and new candidates that they think will align with them.” 

Palomar Health in Escondido on Oct. 25, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Earlier this month, Poway nurses and caregivers from the California Nurses Association took a vote of “no confidence” in Greer saying she has failed to hold CEO Diane Hansen accountable for staffing issues and safety issues. The union also blamed Palomar’s administration for closing the Geriatric Psychiatric Unit in Poway “without a transition plan.” 

Members of Palomar Health’s executive team, including Hansen, declined to comment. Greer, Pacheco, Jones and Paz could not be reached for comment. Irv Edwards also declined to comment. 

A total of eight candidates are running for the four open board seats. The other candidates are Carol Ware, Robin Maxson and incumbent Laurie Edwards-Tate.  

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2 Comments

  1. Words from Christine Bauer are 100% correct. I was a Palomar Health Employee from 2002 until 2021 when My department was outsourced. I can sure say Linda Greer needs to be removed from the Board. It is indeed time for the leadership to go in a different direction. My last few years there I saw things going down hill. Employee morale is below the bottom of the barrel with numerous long tenured employees handing in their resignations. Leadership and administration are detached from front line employees and really have no idea what is going on. They have little to no contact with the front line staff. Last year the entire security department was outsourced to a private company. Since then, many staff have been questioning security of the organization. Many of the new security staff are not properly trained not have the experience needed to work in a healthcare setting. The CEO was given multiple votes of no confidence in her leadership by staff and physician groups. It’s clear there are conflict of interest issues with Linda Greer. Palomar Health will continue to sink faster than the titanic under the current leadership

  2. I do not know the financial details, but as a now retired hospitalist who worked at PMC for many years things were clearly getting worse well before COVID. It is a moral injury issue, meaning you cant practice good humane care in the conditions established by the administration

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