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home : latest news : regional February 5, 2016

12/20/2012 5:09:00 PM
Hospital Board voids meeting citing Brown Act violations

Marty Bachman

BLYTHE - Despite the objection of their attorney, Palo Verde Healthcare District Board members Sam Burton, Sandy Hudson and President Trina Sartin voted to void the Dec. 5 meeting of the previous board, on grounds it violated the Brown Acct.

The trio said officials hadn't posted the agenda correctly and that agenda items were vague. Board members Quitty Pinon and Catalina McClain voted against the item in a Dec. 14 special meeting.

The board acted after receiving a letter of complaint from Blythe resident Pam Bush, who wrote that she went to the hospital to look for the meeting notice but found it only outside the CEO's office and not in what she claimed were the usual places used in the past.

"This notice is not freely accessible to the public or the employees who go in and out of the east side," she wrote.

Bush then contended that the agenda items did not describe the action the board was taking and that board member Sam Burton had not received notification until a few hours before it started.

"Please correct these violations of the Brown Act, which will remove any need to further litigate these violations per section 54960.1a of the Brown Act," she wrote.

In a letter to Bush, board attorney Robert Patterson, whom the board fired immediately after it voided the meeting, wrote that in addition to posting the notice outside the CEO's office as Bush said, officials also posted notice of the meeting on the hospital website as well as the Palo Verde Library and Blythe City Hall, meeting the requirements of the Brown Act.

Patterson also responded to Bush's charge that the agenda didn't describe the action taken, citing her example that one item read "restated District Bylaws" while, in her opinion, the board adopted a whole new set of bylaws.

"The Bylaws adopted by the Board at that meeting were restated in that they contained different provisions from the previous Bylaws," Patterson wrote.

Patterson also wrote that administration records showed Burton had received 24 hours notice of the meeting, as required by the Brown Act.

"None of the other points raised in your letter suggest a violation of the Brown Act, nor do any of the issues in your letter invalidate the action taken by the Board at its meeting on December 5, 2012," Patterson wrote.

During the Dec. 5 special board meeting, which was the last for the board before newly elected members Sartin and Hudson took the oath of office, the board approved a change to the CEO's contract that gave him responsibility for the hiring and firing of employees and contractors, including, but not limited to, legal counsel and health care and other consultants to help the hospital comply with federal and state laws, including, but not limited to, government payment programs and conflicts of interest.

It also changed his termination clause to base it solely on serious misconduct and allowed him to leave the chief financial officer as his designee during any absence. The former board granted him expense reimbursement for costs to perform his duty, including legal costs to protect his legal rights, mediation, and indemnity.

The former board stated it was amending the contract to "assure that the hospital continues its efforts to operate in accordance with state and federal law, including, but not limited to, the federal and state anti-kickback laws, the Political Reform Act, and Government Code Section 1090."

The hospital and Healthcare District Board currently have a lawsuit against hospital surgeon, Dr. Hossain Sahlolbei, charging him with fraud and violations of the anti-kickback statutes.

The former board also changed the bylaws to limit board members from micro-managing day-to-day hospital operations, to demand the hospital board comply with anti-kickback statutes, the Political Reform Act and other laws, and to require a 4/5th vote to change the bylaws.

At the Dec. 14 special meeting, the second one called in three days, Patterson told the board that he saw no violation of the Brown Act.

"If you're interested in your legal counsels' opinion, that is our opinion," Patterson said.

Board members argued that former Board President Jim Carney did not read the closed session agenda items in public, which they considered to be another Brown Act violation, but Patterson said that even if some violations of the Brown Act took place, they did not rise to the level of voiding the meeting.

"There are provisions in the Brown Act that allow a petitioner to seek an order from a court that actions taken at a meeting were in violation of the Brown Act, requesting that they are void," Patterson said. "First, the district has to be given an opportunity to cure and then a petitioner can go to the court and have something voided. But this is not a court proceeding; this is not the venue provided for in the Brown Act for invalidating action."

Hudson said she disagreed with Patterson.

"From what you said, we can self correct or we can spend the district's money and go to court and have it corrected," Hudson said.

Burton moved to cure the Brown Act complaint, and Hudson seconded.

"It's not open for discussion; we were all at that meeting," Hudson said. "I'm sure we all have a variation of different opinion but to me I'm kind of black and white, it either did occur or it didn't occur. I would personally rather vote here today then waste more of the district's money and people's time. This is our third meeting on this topic. To me it's time to wrap it up."

Burton said that once someone files a complaint, the board has 30 days to correct it.

"We can ignore it or say we looked into it and we're in violation," Burton said. "When a person makes a complaint in the community we have the obligation to acknowledge it and cure it. And by curing it, the best way to cure it is by declaring the meeting, 12/5/2012, null and void. We have to do the first step and get back on track."

Board member Catalina McClain said that the board's attorney had sent a letter stating that no Brown Act violation occurred.

"So now we're taking sides; we're going to decide the lay person, who is not an attorney, to say there's an alleged violation here versus the attorney who says there is no alleged action here?"

Burton responded, "We've been dancing around and our attorneys can't give us a straight answer so the best way to cure it is to go ahead and cure it this way if we decide to."

Patterson said, "Here's a straight answer," but Sartin cut him off then read a letter from an attorney she did not identify.

"To avoid litigation, the most important thing to assure the same approach will not be used in the future, it is requested that the board rescind the actions taken at the Dec. 5, 2012 special meeting," Sartin read from the letter. "These actions include the following: approval of the restated bylaws of the district dated December 2012; approval of the second amendment to the chief executive officer's contract. Any action relative to amending the district's conflict of interest."

McClain again raised the issue of the board taking the advice of its attorneys over a layperson but was cut off. When an audience member spoke up asking for McClain to be heard, Burton accused them of trying to filibuster the meeting. He later asked the board to allow McClain to speak.

"I'm not disagreeing that we need to avoid this complaint," McClain said. "I believe this complaint needs to be addressed. I think that the hospital should have the opportunity to investigate and then if there are Brown Act violations, correct them. We are being asked to take a vote to recant the things that happened on 12/5 of 12 on the basis of this alleged Brown Act violation without even having verification of whether or not an action occurred and what type of degree to cure it, to fix it."

Hudson and McClain began arguing and then Burton apologized to McClain for cutting her off. The board then voted 3-2 to declare the Dec. 5 meeting null and void.

Download the letter submitted to the board from Pam Bush

Download the letter from former Palo Verde Healthcare District Board attorney Robert Patterson in response to the Pam Bush letter

Related Stories:
• TIMES EDITORIAL: District Attorney Paul Zellberbach owes Blythe more than an apology
• Former DA warns board members of potential conflicts
• TIMES EDITORIAL: Medical staff needs to take responsibility for failing grade
• Hospital receives 'F' grade from patient safety advocacy group
• Healthcare District Board authorizes CEO to issue RFPs to contract out transportation and surgical services
• Medical staff seeks to restrain Healthcare District Board from contracting out surgical services

Related Links:
• TIMES EDITORIAL: Let's get bids on hospital services and then make a decision
• Healthcare District files lawsuit against hospital surgeon, Hossain Sahlolbei
• Sahlolbei attorneys file demurrer in response to suit

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Article comment by: Fired Up!

Boy, this article created a stir! Great! The hospital lackies blast the paper because they don't "appreciate" how the hospital big-wigs play "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours". Anybody who places themselves above others and is willing to manipulate anybody and anything to get their own way ALWAYS belittles, castigates, threatens, those who bust them. They, like all the inmates in all the prisons, don't like it when they are exposed. They believe they are not vulnerable because they have no concept of right or wrong. There is no "guilt", no "shame", no "remorse". NOTHING. So they rant and rave, rant and rave, and soon people believe them. Now, as it looks like the tables are turning, these people panic. No more threat of lawsuits, they move into action, they get "brave", assuming everyone will be intimidated. I think Blythe is finally beginning to get some courage and realize that if it is to be done, WE must make it happen. The board knew there was a difficult lawsuit pending, so the simply "voided" it. That may be "legal", but it is without integrity. Go, Blythe! The Palo Verde Valley Times is to be thanked for the great, difficult service they are providing

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Article comment by: @ fearful employee

Maybe she does what the pvvt does and just went to listening to the minutes online. If she has been to one meeting in the past 4 months it would be one more than our local paper has attended

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Article comment by: @ Fearful Employee

Good point and where is Pam Bush?
Maybe she felt used?

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Article comment by: Fearful Employee

Just wondering...What ever happened to Pam Bush? This mess started with writing a formal compliant
because she didn't like where the agenda was posted. She hasn't been seen or heard from at any of the meetings. (deleted)

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement.

Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013
Article comment by: Small Request

could you please in the future use Catalina's correct spelling of her last name? Every article you post has her name spelled incorrectly. It is McLain, not McClain.

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012
Article comment by: Aj McKay

Go figure a sufficient post that made a lot of sense to most readers wouldn't be posted. LOL! Comments that are excessively verbose, rambling or too long for reasonable review may not be posted? Isn't that what most posts on here do? haha! Too funny . . . .

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012
Article comment by: Aj McKay

Site Administrator's note:Please keep comments succinct; 300 words or less is optimal. Comments that are excessively verbose, rambling or too long for reasonable review may not be posted.

Posted: Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Article comment by: @ aj

AJ is not superficial - no? go to the other posts you left - u are a hypocrite. How will it go to court if the new board won't let it? That is the point - who cares how long u have lived here if you aren't listening? I've lived here all my life too, except I've paid attention. We have had this situation with this Dr for many years. Can't help it if you haven't been keeping up. Yes we are grateful for somebody keeping up with the ridiculousness of this Dr and his crony's and that would be PVVT. Can't wait for folks like you to actually tell the truth and the whole truth and/or let it get to court - it will never happen because it doesn't fit your agenda. U want everyone to be quiet because u don't like the story.

Posted: Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Article comment by: Blythe Observer

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement. Personal attacks are not tolerated, and are a direct violation of these Terms of Use.

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2012
Article comment by: @ blythe observer

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement. Please keep comments succinct; 300 words or less is optimal. Comments that are excessively verbose, rambling or too long for reasonable review may not be posted.

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2012
Article comment by: just me@fat jackle

lmao .you were given enough rope and hung your self.Thank you for giving Jeff Scotts name now the community knows who to send their letters of complaint to..Lets just see if Mr.Burton will acknowledge it and cure it.The only cure I can see his to get the one they worship out of the hospital period.

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2012
Article comment by: The shaddow knows

To Fat Jackel!
Thank you for giving up the name of the new attorney. I didn't mention a name or anything other than two facts. He has 30 years experience and he was a previous attorney that was let go from the hospital. How do you get slander out of that? You are the one that announced his name to the town. Thank you for sharing.
Marry Christmas!

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2012
Article comment by: Blythe Observer

It appears from this article that the three Board members Sam Burton, Sandra Hudson and Trina Sartin gave in way to easily and voided a legal Board meeting just because of a letter from Pam Bush.
Could there of been collusion?
Then the possibility of conflict of interest with Dr. Sahlolbei. Monies given to Sam Burton's Church, Sahlolbei renting a house that Sandra Hudson's husband has legal interest in.

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2012
Article comment by: @ Fat Jackal

Do you speak for Jeff Scott or are you trying to intimidate the Blythe Public?
Afraid what might be revealed?

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2012
Article comment by: Concerned Citizen

Could that embezzlement be something like 10,000 of fair animals without a public board approval. No minutes have ever reflected that?

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