CALEXICO – In response to a recent article published by a local newspaper, the Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District held a press conference Tuesday, September 22, in its defense after being accused of unwisely using property tax funds at a meeting with the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).
LAFCO is a government agency that oversees streamlining and reorganization of other government agencies including healthcare districts.
At the last LAFCO meeting on August 27, they were presented with an “inaccurate” report of Heffernan fiscal activities, according Heffernan director, Sylvia Bernal. The contested report was prepared by Braitman & Associates, a firm hired by Heffernan.
“The district closed its acute care hospital in 1998, and since then has not operated any health care facilities. Although the hospital was abandoned, the district was not dissolved at that time and has operated and received property taxes since then,” Bernal explained.
“The Heffernan District has not been sitting around twiddling their thumbs as you read in a local newspaper,” said Hildy Carillo, Executive Director, Calexico Chamber of Commerce. “You can’t believe everything you read.”
Over the past nine years, according to Heffernan’s accounting donations’ report, they have donated almost $2,000,000 toward the wellness of its district, from supporting a 24-hour acute clinic to helping sponsor local family activity events.
Heffernan has provided funding for several ambulances for the Calexico Fire Department.
“The Heffernan District has been highly instrumental in purchasing three ambulances since 2009, manual and semi-automatic defibrillators, and a compressed medical air machine on our behalf that keep our citizens safe,” said Peter Mercado, Calexico Fire Chief. “The health care district funds allows us to have critical medical equipment. The city is not always able to fund those ventures.”
The Heffernan District’s most recent investment was a purchase of an office complex on Mary Avenue in the city of Calexico. The building will undergo construction in the near future to accommodate various physicians’ needs who will lease out the suites.
Eduardo Rivera, Heffernan General Counsel, is currently working on an agreement with Dr. Luz Elva Tristan, pediatrician who plans to occupy one of the suites and establish a one-year child obesity program.
“The district has already authorized a $160,000, one-year grant for a pilot program for child obesity,” said Rivera. “Child obesity in the valley is sky high, Dr. Tristan believes that you attack child obesity now, to avoid ramifications in the future.”
“The IV Press quoted LAFCO member, Mike Kelley, criticizing Heffernan saying they had done absolutely nothing since 1998 when the hospital closed,” explained Rivera.“How can Mr. Kelley say we have done nothing for that period of time? The PMH and Heffernan partnership have provided urgent care center services for the community for the last three years. That article was very, very unfair, just like some other things that have been said about the district.”
Heffernan has partnered up with the PMH, ECRMC, Dr. Tristan, UCSD, Clinicas de Salud Del Pueblo, City of Calexico, Calexico Fire and Police Departments and other departments to provide healthcare services and wellness programs for the community.
Heffernan is part of the Calexico chamber and is highly involved in partnering with the chamber to promote the wellness of the community.
“When you read a headline that Heffernan gave money to the Mariachi Festival, we should applaud them. Most agencies don’t do that because it doesn’t fall under their umbrella,” said Carillo. “We care about the overall wellness of this community for our senior citizens and low income residents.”
“When a newspaper rakes you over the coals because you donated to a Mariachi Festival, too bad for them, because that is not the full story,” said Carillo. “You (Heffernan) are transparent and you are helping the community and we applaud you.”
Heffernan has an elected board of five, Sylvia Bernal, Rosie Fernandez, Gloria Grijalva, Norma Apodaca and Maria T. Camacho.
In attendance were PMH CEO, Larry Lewis, and Board President Catalina A. Santillan to support the Heffernan District.
“We are currently working on the re-entry of 24-7 services for urgent care here in Calexico, in addition to other things,” said Lewis. “We have a great relationship and will continue to provide more care to the city of Calexico.”
Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District has been operating in Calexico since 1951 and have worked closely with Pioneers Medical Group for a number of years.
“The LAFCO meeting (August 27) was very positive. Why it was turned around in the newspaper, I have no idea,” said Santillan.
ECRMC Tomas Virgen, CEO, was also present, “I am very excited to work with Heffernan, providing medical needs for the community.”
“Don’t worry about what anyone says. LAFCO wants a plan of attack and Mr. Rivera assures me, come 90 days you will have a plan,” said Supervisor John Renison, (D-1) “On behalf of the board of supervisors, I can tell you, that we all support what you do.”
Asked about the Tuesday Heffernan press conference, Supervisor and LAFCO member, Michael Kelley said, “Why didn’t Heffernan bring all of this information up at the LAFCO meeting. The types of expenses I saw were for things like $2,500 for softball, purchasing a brand new building, and a mariachi sponsorship.”
LAFCO voted not to dissolve Heffernan during the August 27 meeting, but rather give them a 90-day period to provide LAFCO with a medical plan on how they will provide medical care for Calexico residents.