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The Palomar Health Board of Directors is at odds over a contract it extended last month of its medical group Emergent Medical Associates.
Some board members say the board’s chair, Linda Greer, had a significant conflict of interest, and that she should have recused herself from voting on the contract because of campaign contributions she accepted from the company.
Palomar first contracted with the group in 2021. Doctors and nurses criticized the change at the time because they said 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.
Former chief of staff Sabiha Pasha, who left the hospital group on Dec. 31, said physicians were not consulted about the contract extension, just like they weren’t consulted about the 2021 contract change.
Palomar Health’s bylaws stipulate that the board is supposed to consult with physicians before making any contract executions, modifications, renewals or terminations.
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.
The board’s approval of the contract change in 2021 abruptly switched the medical group that provides Palomar Health’s physicians and other staff for its hospitals in Escondido and Poway, which led to protests and votes of “no confidence” from the hospital’s existing physicians.
Voice of San Diego previously reported that the hospital district’s top staff and the new medical group’s founder were chipping in campaign donations to members of the board majority that supported the contract change.
During the November Elections, Greer was one of the incumbent candidates running for one of the four board seats that were up for grabs.
She received more than $8,000 or 26 percent of her total contributions from Palomar Hospital Partners, Inc, according to the San Diego Registrar of Voters.
Palomar Hospital Partners, Inc. was founded in April 2021 by Irv Edwards. Edwards is also the founder and president of Emergent Medical Associates. And according to the Dec. 12 staff report, Emergent Medical Associates and Palomar Hospital Partners, Inc. are one and the same.
Greer also received $9,000 or almost 30 percent of her total campaign contributions from the hospital’s top executive staff members including Palomar Health COO Stephanie Baker, CFO Hugh King and CAO Ryan Olsen. She received several other donations from members of Palomar Health’s senior leadership team.
She ultimately regained her seat on the board and was voted board chair, and on Dec. 12, she took part in the vote to extend Emergent Medical Associates’ contract.
“It’s a potential conflict of interest,” said board member Laurie Edwards-Tate. “Any decision by any board member where there is a financial connection or financial gain by the organization that needs to be voted on would be grounds to recuse oneself.”
Edwards-Tate and John Clark were the only two board members who voted against the contract extension.
Clark also believed the item wasn’t properly put on the agenda because it was grouped with other items into a category labeled “routine physician agreements.” He had to ask for the item to be discussed separately, he said.
He also said Greer should have recused herself from the vote.
Palomar Health’s bylaws say the board must “eliminate from its decision-making processes financial or other interests possessed by its members that conflict with the district’s interests.”
The board must also follow the rules against conflicts of interest established by the California Government Code and the California Health and Safety Code, its bylaws state.
A representative of Palomar Health said they have “no information” on the matter and would not comment. Voice disclosed its findings regarding the campaign contributions to Palomar Health last October.
Greer and the other board members also could not be reached for comment.