Fountain Valley Regional Hospital, a for-profit hospital that has had the biggest known safety problems of any Orange County hospital during the Covid pandemic, ended up getting the most federal taxpayer relief dollars distributed by County of Orange officials.
The county awarded the hospital $2.9 million in federal CARES Act money, more than any other hospital in Orange County, according to a list of vendors and amounts the county released to Voice of OC this month.
In a scathing September report, state health officials verified employees’ accusations that virus patients at Fountain Valley Regional were being mixed with non-virus patients.
The hospital’s leadership “failed to ensure an effective, active hospital-wide infection control program for prevention, control and investigation of infections and communicable diseases, including COVID-19,” wrote investigators for the California Department of Public Health.
Three other hospitals in Orange County are treating more coronavirus patients than Fountain Valley Regional, according to the latest federal data.
They were Kaiser Permanent’s hospital in Anaheim (243), St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton (195), St. Joseph Hospital in Orange (203), as of Monday, with 159 coronavirus patients at Fountain Valley Regional.
This article is part of an ongoing series on how federal money for combatting coronavirus was spent in Orange County. Yesterday, we reported on how the county distributed money among its agencies. Today we’re profiling which vendors got the biggest amounts. Click here for a full list of CARES Act spending stories published so far.
County spokeswoman Molly Nichelson said supervisors approved the CARES Act spending on hospitals in September, based mostly on each hospital’s percentage of countywide coronavirus patients during a 10-day period in mid-July.
That approach, in turn, was based on recommendation from the Hospital Association of Southern California, according to county Supervisor Doug Chaffe.
“It was the hospital association, of which they are a member, [that] determined how the money was to be allocated among all the hospitals,” Chaffee told Voice of OC on Monday.
“So we made our deal with the association, which in turn…is how they figured it out.”
“My memory is, we sent the money to the hospital association for distribution based on the formula you were describing. But we did not compile the numbers, that was what the association was supposed to do,” Chaffee said, adding he “was concerned at the time about how the money” would be distributed.
The money went directly from the county to hospitals, based on amounts the hospital association helped the county develop, said a spokesman for the association.
“The county consulted HASC and Orange County hospitals in making its final determination on the allocations. Funding was distributed directly [by the county] to hospitals,” said Adam Blackstone, vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC), in a statement to Voice of OC.
“CARES Act funding allocations for hospitals in Orange County were derived from an equitable methodology that was weighted by a point-in-time census of COVID-19 patients and hospital bed counts.”
Representatives of Fountain Valley Regional Hospital have said they submitted a plan to fix the problems the state identified.
After months of pushing from Voice of OC under the state’s Public Records Act, County of Orange officials this month released a summary of payouts from CARES Act funds to county agencies as well as individual vendors.
Here’s the top companies and nonprofits that received CARES Act money, as of the end of November. Click here for the county’s explanation of what the money went towards.
- $27.2 million to Main Street Launch, for small business grants distributed on behalf of supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Doug Chaffee.
- $12.9 million to Managed Career Solutions, for small business grants distributed on behalf of Supervisor Andrew Do.
- $10.6 million to Charitable Ventures of Orange County, for small business grants distributed on behalf of Supervisor Don Wagner and grants for childcare service providers.
- $9.9 million to the Orange County Business Council, for grants to restaurants. The business council was paid up to 3.75% of the amount, or about $370,000, as its administrative fee.
- $6.8 million to Golden Star Technology, for information technology for the county Health Care Agency.
- $4.9 million to Goforth & Marti, for equipment and installation of workplace changes to comply with social distancing guidelines, including plexi-glass at public counters and employee cubicles.
- $4.2 million to 360 Health Plan Inc., for COVID-19 testing of county residents.
- $3.8 million to Am Trace LLC, for contact tracing of COVID-positive residents, and data for analytics and training of county and contractor staff.
- $2.9 million to Fountain Valley Regional Hospital & Medical Center, for “eligible medical expenses” as a hospital responding to COVID-19.
- $2.3 million to Senior Communityserv Inc., for the Great Plates program to provide meals for seniors during the pandemic.
- $1.4 million to Age Well Senior Services, for the Great Plates program to provide meals for seniors during the pandemic.
None of the spending has stuck out as problematic, said Supervisor Don Wagner.
“It’s been an interesting experience because of course it’s an unprecedented experience…everybody is struggling through this together and learning as we go,” Wagner told Voice of OC on Monday.
“None of those expenditures necessarily jump out to me at this point as saying ‘Oh that doesn’t make any sense or why did we spend that much money,’ as opposed to say the mask deal that the governor’s office had that left everybody scratching their heads and ultimately fell through.”
The financial summaries released by the county showed, among other things, that when it came to federal dollars meant for “responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” Orange County officials have been spending far more of it on sheriff officials than public health workers.
When it comes to public agencies, county administrators spent $93 million of their CARES Act funds on payroll at the Sheriff’s Department, compared with $58 million on Health Care Agency employees, according to the latest-available data from the county, which runs through the third quarter of last year.
Wagner says that while it may seem to be lopsided, there’s a good reason for it.
“It is true, as you noticed, that we spent a whole lot more on the Sheriff’s Department as opposed to [the Health Care Agency],” in terms of CARES Act spending on payroll, Wagner said Monday.
“In some ways I think that is understandable because a lot of what we saw was working through the emergency operations center that the Sheriff’s Department had to stand up and staff. And a lot of what the Health Care Agency was doing was within their normal jurisdiction, so not necessarily increased overtime or outside something they would normally do,” he added.
Sheriff officials also were doing “ major work” creating social distancing in the jails, Wagner said.
“It is unbalanced, but …there are definitely some legitimate reasons for that, what appears on the surface to be a discrepancy.”
According to the Treasury guidance, local governments can use CARES Act money to cover employee salaries such as “redeploying corrections facility staff to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions through work such as enhanced sanitation or enforcing social distancing measures,” and “the costs of redeploying police to support management and enforcement of stay-at-home orders.”
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes has repeatedly said his department will not enforce stay-at home-orders.
Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that the patient numbers at each hospital are of total coronavirus patients, not just those in ICUs.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.