Healthcare District fights back against funds misuse allegations

Heffernan retreat under fire

CALEXICO, Calif. - The Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District is threatening to sue a local newspaper for a series of articles about the District’s summer training retreat with public funds.

HMHD General Counsel Eduardo Rivera said the newspaper published three articles which were “erroneous, false.” However, they admitted they went to the four-star Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines Hotel at a cost of over $13,000 dollars. They insist it was a legal retreat because it was approved by them in a public session.

“In a public agenda, discussed the retreat and the expenditure that the retreat was going to incur. It authorized it by a majority vote,” Rivera said.

They deny other expenses being charged to the District, as reported in the articles, such as golf, valet parking and room service.

“That is an absolute lie, sir!” Rivera exclaimed pointing at the newspaper in his hands during the press conference.

The board justifies the training retreat, saying they needed it to talk about grants. It was organized by their former grant writer. HMHD President Sylvia Bernal didn’t go, but the grant writer’s daughter went in her place, according to information gathered by this news station.

“For a grant writer in order to know what the district is looking for, you need to get together with the board members to find out what their goals and objectives are,” Bernal said.

However, that goal was not reached and the grants they went there to prepare for were never sought. And the grant writer is no longer working for HMHD.

HMHD Treasurer Hector Martinez said, “We couldn't reach the grants, but we still have that focus and hopefully, if we decide to hire another grant writer, then that can be done. Initially, it was for training and for us to come together on those goals – they haven’t happened, but they will.”

Bernal insists it was a good investment of public funds.

“It was worth it. It was worth it to the new board members they are new members and they need to get as much training as possible to be able to function, to be able to do what they’re supposed to do for this district. I think it was worth it for them to be there,” Bernal said.

Now they’re asking the county to help cover the costs.

“We’re supposed to get from the board of supervisors fifteen thousand dollars that’s supposed be had given for this retreat that they’re doing,” Bernal said.

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