Three years of Adventist Health in Tulare, more to come

Adventist Health, the healthcare giant who helped rescue Tulare Local Health Care District from the clutches of criminally indicted Healthcare Conglomerate Associates, celebrates three years in Tulare

TULARE – Oct. 15 marked three years to the day when critical healthcare services returned to Tulare thanks to faith-based healthcare giant Adventist Health. They were the ones who struck a deal with bankrupt Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD)—mired in corruption and scandal from previous board members and the criminally indicted management of Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA)—to reopen and operate the city’s only hospital on a 30-year lease and throw the district a lengthy line of credit.

Sheri Pereira, Adventist Tulare’s associate patient care executive, grew up in Tulare and has been with Adventist for her entire nursing career. She said the hospital was ingrained in the community growing up, and it was strange to hear of its closure in 2017.

“I didn’t really think something like that could happen in what I would consider a normal sized town,” Pereira said. “It was just a very strange feeling to think, ‘oh my gosh, we don’t have my hometown hospital.’”

A quick $10 million investment from Adventist got the hospital back open within a year, avoiding a long list of requirements for reopening. Since it’s reopening, Adventist Health Tulare has expanded far beyond emergency care, now offering surgical, medical imaging, lab and obstetrics services. More than 500 babies have been delivered at the Tulare Birth Center.

“It truly is a miracle…hospitals just don’t open that quickly. It was done very well,” Pereira said. “We opened [obstetrician] in 2019 and then just got more and more services. We brought dialysis on board, we’re now doing ortho surgeries, our ICU is booming—we just have more and more happening.”

In 2021, six new physicians began hands-on training at Adventist Health facilities in Tulare, expanding access to providers. Together, the doctors make up the first class of the Family Medicine Residency program in Tulare. Interviews are currently underway for the program’s second class.

Access to basic healthcare services is also growing in Tulare thanks to Adventist Health’s Mobile Care Unit, which has brought vaccines directly to members of the city’s homeless population and employees of local businesses.

Pereira also serves as a liaison to TLHCD where a major leadership change is underway, a test to the stability Adventist’s tenure has brought to Tulare. TLHCD CEO Sandra Ormonde is leaving her post in December, and the board is currently interviewing candidates for her replacement.

In her short stint as CEO—beginning May 1, 2019 and ending Dec. 1, 2021—Ormonde oversaw the closing of more than 30 lawsuits, the districts recovery from bankruptcy, the planning of both the future management of Evolutions Fitness Center and completion of the hospital tower, not to mention led the hospital district through a global pandemic. Pereira said she’s had an excellent working relationship with Ormonde.

The district is also on the hunt to appoint a new board director to serve out the remainder of former board director Senovia Gutierrez’s term, who resigned Oct. 1 to take a job with Los Angeles area-based nonprofit Team Hope helping unaccompanied children who cross the Mexican-U.S. border.

Gutierrez succeeded former board president and staunch HCCA supporter Dr. Parmod Kumar in July of 2017 via recall election, where Kumar was recalled by 80% of voters and Gutierrez was overwhelmingly selected as his replacement with three-quarters of the vote. The timing of her election proved pivotal as it took HCCA’s majority influence away from the board.

The district will be discussing filling both vacancies at their next board meeting Oct. 27 at the Evolutions Plaza conference room at 1425 E. Prosperity Ave. in Tulare. Attendees may also drop in via Zoom, and the link is available in the board meeting agenda at tularelocalhealthcaredistrict.org.

Most of the trouble has been over finishing the seemingly never-ending tower project 15 years in the making to bring more modernized healthcare to Tulare in an up-to-standards facility. Capital investments from big donors, grants and possibly another bond measure will be needed to get the tower operational, which Adventist needs to move forward with their healthcare plans in Tulare.

Adventist does have the option to opt out of their lease agreement with the district at five-year increments, with the first approaching in 2023. Pereira said Adventist is here to stay in her hometown.

“There’s no kind of teeter-totter on being scared of, ‘Will they stay? Will they go?’” Pereira said. “The investment has been made, it’s going to continue to be made, and we will continue to support this community.”

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