VALLEY HEALTH SYSTEM: Board rejects price of nurse-recruiter

A meeting draws foes of a bid to pay $50,000 for each foreign worker.

SUN CITY – Hemet’s Valley Health System board backed away Monday night from a proposal to hire its key business partner, Dr. Kali P. Chaudhuri, to recruit foreign nurses for $50,000 apiece. Instead, the board set up a committee to review more broadly what the district can do to recruit and retain nurses, both locally and from overseas.

Nearly 100 people, many of them nurses, jammed a meeting room at Menifee Valley Medical Center for about two hours to oppose the contract with Chaudhuri’s Strategic Healthcare Services Inc.

Several speakers said the district could attract more nurses if it improved salaries and benefits, including longevity pay and pensions, and if it purchased newer equipment for the district’s emergency rooms and hospital wards.

“There are nurses out there that would love to work in this community,” said Hope Sullivan, a Menifee hospital emergency-room nurse.

Another Menifee nurse, Maureen Alcantar, said the hospital’s medical equipment is old and frequently breaks down. “I’ve had cardiac patients turn blue in front of me,” she said.

Alcantar said this adds to the frustration of trying to care for patients. She urged the board to spend money on equipment upgrades rather than on fees to Chaudhuri’s staffing company.

Keith Garrison, who oversees medical equipment for the district, said Tuesday that repairs were made to some equipment and said the district plans to replace other equipment later this year.

Several speakers urged the board to avoid another business deal with Chaudhuri. The district’s day-to-day management is handled by a joint venture between Chaudhuri and Valley Health System. Chaudhuri’s financial ties to the district have sparked several recall elections, including one that turned out a former board majority.

“Get Kali out of everybody’s pocket,” said Joe Campbell, a Hemet man who said his bad heart has landed him repeatedly in the district’s flagship hospital in Hemet.

Board chairman Darren Magness said the district supports the concept of recruiting nurses from overseas to help fill vacancies, but “we don’t support the price tag” on Chaudhuri’s proposal. He said the district’s finance committee forwarded Chaudhuri’s proposal to the board for discussion, but did not recommend approval.

Chaudhuri did not attend the board meeting. In a letter to the board, he said he is looking at other alternatives, such as recruiting local nurses, to solve the district’s registry problem.

His attorney, William Thomas, said Tuesday that Chaudhuri’s company has provided the district with resumes from foreign nurses who have met some of the requirements for working in the United States. The nurses must pass their licensing exams, but they are nearly ready to obtain a visa and enter the United States, he said.

Thomas said Chaudhuri’s company will have no problem placing its nurses elsewhere if the district doesn’t want them.

Chaudhuri had proposed to recruit 40 to 50 foreign nurses, put them through cultural training, help them obtain visas and pass California’s nurse-licensing requirements, provide transportation to the Hemet area and four months worth of room and board. If any nurses left within the first two years, Chaudhuri’s company promised to replace them or provide a credit for the remainder of their term.

Recruiting foreign nurses could save the district money in the long run, said Geoff Lang, the district’s interim chief executive officer.

A staff nurse costs the district about $61,000 a year; a registry nurse costs more than twice that, Lang told the audience Monday night.

The district is spending more than $10 million a year on temporary “registry” nurses because it can’t attract enough permanent nurses to fill about 80 openings, Magness said. That expense is a major reason the district lost $2.6 million on operations through the first 11 months of its fiscal year, he said. Valley Health operates hospitals in Sun City, Hemet and Moreno Valley.

“We have to solve that problem,” Magness said in an interview Tuesday. “If we solve that problem, there’s more money for equipment and benefits.”

Several board members acknowledged the district needs more staff and equipment, but said the district also needs to make payroll and keep the lights on.

“In the last several years we’ve been in survivorship mode,” said board member Russell Hoxie. “I think under the circumstances we’re doing the best we can.”

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