Community Regional sues to expel doctors, doctors sue

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The Regional Community Medical Center in Fresno, Calif. Is shown.

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The legal battle between the Fresno-area’s largest hospital system and a large group of doctors extends to three cases filed this month.

Community medical centers filed a lawsuit to evict primary care doctors occupying a facility owned by the hospital under an expired lease, and the doctors took legal action – alleging unfair business practices.

The community filed a lawsuit against Sante’s healthcare system earlier this month in Fresno County Superior Court. This was followed by the counter action brought by the Sante Health System and the Community Medical Providers Medical Group (CMP) on September 15.

The community operates the Regional Community Medical Center in downtown Fresno, Clovis Community Medical Center, Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital and other facilities. Health is a group of over 1,200 physicians and nurse practitioners. The CMP is a member of the Sante Physicians IPA, an organization under the aegis of the Sante Health System.

In another case, Community Medical Centers is suing the Community Regional Medical Staff Medical Group and Scott Wells, CEO of Sante, individually over issues that led to the disruption of trauma services a year ago.

The eviction case comes down to deciding whether Sante has a valid lease for the property owned by the hospital at 1570 E. Herndon Ave. CMP operated from the location, known as the Care Center, through a contract with Sante.

Wells said Tuesday that Sante had gone to court to ensure continuity of patient care.

Michelle Von Tersch, spokesperson for the community health centers, said on Tuesday that the eviction case had been filed by the community health centers “to repossess the property of the health center after the expiration of Sante’s lease and that the CMP doctors had not left the building “.

Von Tersch said the hospital’s goal is to retain the services of the Care Center’s current provider group and continue their lease.

“But the group did not renew the lease as required, and the doctors’ organization decided it would no longer care for the 12,000 members of our health plan, Community Care Health,” Von Tersch said in a statement. “They are mainly employees of the Community and their families.”

The lease, according to the Sante lawsuit, was due to expire on August 31, 2021. According to the lease attached to the lawsuit, Sante is supposed to provide 270 days’ notice if he wishes to extend the lease.

According to the lawsuit, Sante has been a tenant for over two decades and “extensions have been handled informally” in the past. Sante’s notice to opt for an extension of the lease was given “after the deadline indicated by the lease to give a notice of extension”. The most recent extension request was made in April 2021, according to the lawsuit.

On May 14, 2021, Grant Nakamura, president of the CMP, notified community medical centers that the CMP would not renew its contract to provide medical services to patients under Community Care Health after December 31, 2021, according to the lawsuit.

Hospital management was “very unhappy with the turn of events” that the CMP would no longer provide medical services to CCH members, according to the lawsuit.

Wells said Tuesday that CMP never had a direct contract with CCH, the hospital’s health plan. The CMP provided medical services to CCH participants as part of the CMP’s relationship with Sante Physicians IPA.

Sante Physicians IPA decided earlier this year to no longer do business with community medical centers, Wells said. The CMP informed the hospital that it would no longer provide medical services to CHC members as Sante Physicians IPA no longer had a business relationship with the hospital.

The hospital, Wells said, then wanted to enter into a direct contract with the CMP. However, he said the CMP and CCH were unable to make a separate contract directly with the community health centers.

According to the lawsuit, after community medical centers were informed that the CMP would not renew its contract to provide medical services to CHC participants, COO Craig Wagoner informed Nakamura and Wells that the hospital would put the space in the care center available to other doctors.

Von Tersch said on Tuesday that hospital officials expect medical providers in the building belonging to the hospital to care for members of the CCH regime, “not to abandon them.”

“For months now, we’ve been offering group leadership a simple and fair path to maintain continuity of care and keep current providers in the building,” she said. “Basically we just wanted them to keep doing what they’re doing now. It would have been better for everyone.

Unfortunately, she said, the group’s leaders have rejected all reasonable efforts to reach an agreement to continue.

According to the lawsuit, the community health centers “seek to coerce the plaintiffs into an unwanted contract”.

The lawsuit says Sante has the contractual right to continue to occupy the health center as long as it pays the community health centers 125% of the monthly rent owed under the lease.

Yet community health centers, according to the lawsuit, rejected Sante’s rent of $ 76,148 for the month of September in contradiction to what is allowed under the lease.

As of Tuesday, 18 primary care providers still occupied the Care Center, according to Wells.

Von Tersch said the hospital must protect its patients and plan for 2022.

“It means directly executing a lease or multiple leases with vendors who agree to serve members of our health plan,” she said.

Stories about Fresno Bee

Yesenia Amaro covers immigration and diverse communities for The Fresno Bee. She previously worked for the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia and the Las Vegas Review-Journal in Nevada. She recently received the 2018 CACJ Journalistic Integrity Award. In 2015, she won the Nevada Press Association Outstanding Journalist of the Year award and also received the Community Service Award.


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