North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

March 6, 2003

Fallout from Redding medical scandal continues

Mystery photo -- correction

Wharehouse fire in Old Town

CR takes another hit

Tackling gas prices

Meningitis surfaces

Illegal outfitters beware

Animal shelter out to bid

Farewell to Orick Johnny

Fallout from Redding medical scandal continues


Redding cardiologist Dr. Chae Hyun Moon, under federal investigation for allegedly performing unnecessary heart bypasses and for questionable Medicare billing, resigned his position as director of cardiology at Redding Medical Center last month, three days after his malpractice insurance expired.

Dr. Fidel Realyvasquez, Jr., who is also under federal investigation, has taken a 90-day leave of absence to help his attorneys with his legal battles. Unlike Moon, Realyvasquez has been able to maintain his malpractice insurance.

Realyvasquez is the chief of cardiac surgery at Redding Medical Center.

Moon's resignation and Realyvasquez's leave of absence, means Redding Medical Center's cardiology program is without a leader.

Whether the departures of Moon and Realyvasquez from Redding Medical Center have any affect on patient referrals from Humboldt County remains to be seen.

Allison Book, a spokeswoman for Mad River Hospital in Arcata, said the hospital does not refer patients to Redding Medical Center. Referrals are up to patients and their doctors, she said.

When information about Moon and Realyvasquez first surfaced, local doctors said they knew of several patients who had been referred to the two heart doctors.

One local doctor, familiar with the situation in Redding (who asked that his name not be used), said the decisions by Moon and Realyvasquez will probably lead people to rely more heavily on local medical facilities.

"It may decrease the number of referrals to Redding Medical Center," the doctor said. "People may start using St. Joseph [Hospital] more often. They have been doing heart surgeries there for four years."

Moon, 55, and Realyvasquez, 54, allegedly billed Medicare (the federal health insurance program for seniors) almost $8 million between 2001 and 2002, putting the pair near the top in Medicare billing among California doctors. Moon and Realyvasquez's billing practices led the FBI to raid their Redding office last October.

Since then a number of Moon's and Realyvasquez's former patients have said they underwent unneeded heart procedures.

The FBI and the state have not filed charges against Moon and Realyvasquez. But lawyers representing hundreds of patients are preparing to file civil lawsuits against the doctors.

Redding Medical Center and its parent company, Santa Barbara-based Tenet Health Care, have been adversely affected by the investigation into Moon and Realyvasquez. Tenet has become the subject of a federal probe into Medicare billing practices. At one point Tenet's stock dropped almost 70 percent and Redding Medical Center has seen a 20 percent drop in admissions since word of the investigation doctors surfaced, according to a hospital spokesperson.

Neither Moon nor Realyvasquez have commented on either the federal investigation or former patients' claims. Moon did set up a website to give his side of the issue, and several colleagues, nurses and one former patient have posted letters in support of Moon.

But while Moon's supporters continue to voice their support for him, Moon's situation continues to worsen. Blue Shield of California announced in early January it cancelled health plan contracts with Moon and Realyvasquez. Blue Shield's decision came on the heels of the state terminating Medi-Cal payments to the doctors in November. Medi-Cal is the state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

The State Medical Board tried, unsuccessfully, to suspend both Moon's and Realyvasquez's licenses last fall, but a Shasta County Superior Court Judge dismissed the case in November.

The medical board is continuing its investigation.

Redding Medical Center officials say they are working to find another surgeon. Meanwhile, officials with Mercy Medical Center in Redding said they are expanding their cardiology program.

The local doctor assumes Mercy will become the lead cardiology facility in Redding. It has had a heart program for a number of years and handles more than 200 heart cases per year, the doctor said.

"If [Mercy] beefs up the [cardiology] department to take more patients, it wouldn't surprise me," the doctor said.

old photo of Japanese sailors

Mystery photo -- correction

A photo in last week's paper of a group of Asian men lined up against a wall next to a police officer was not a depiction of a roundup of Chinese that took place in Humboldt County in 1906. Matina Kilkenny of the Humboldt County Historical Society, which provided the photo, said the men are Japanese, not Chinese. Kilkenny knows that because the names of the men are written faintly in the foreground. But she said she doesn't know much else about the photo. Her best guess is that the men comprised the crew of a Japanese junk old photo of Japanese Junk(below) that was found on the beach four miles north of Samoa on Aug. 2, 1913. According to historical documents, three Japanese were arrested at the scene and the rest were captured later. Kilkenny said they were probably taken into custody because, on shore, they would have been considered illegal aliens. Given the racism against Asians that prevailed in Humboldt County at the time, Kilkenny said the fact that the men were Japanese "would just have made it harder for them."

Warehouse fire in Old Town

Just before 5:30 a.m. on Sunday the Eureka Fire Department took a call: There was a huge warehouse fire raging in northern Eureka. The caller hadn't heard any sirens yet.

The alarm sounded at 5:35 a.m. and soon every on-duty firefighter in Eureka and the 1st Humboldt County Fire District as well as 10 volunteers were on hand to fight the already well-established blaze at the county warehouse on Second and K streets.

It took an hour to get the conflagration under control, as old 55-gallon paint drums, propane cylinders and welding gas tanks ignited from the heat and blasted off into the early morning sky.

Luckily, no one was hurt. Ten vehicles including a forklift, a street-sweeper and a road-striping vehicle were damaged. Some merely blistered from the heat while others were turned into smoldering hulks. Many specialized maintenance supplies and tools were lost. Overall the damage is estimated to be well over $1 million.

Investigators have narrowed down the starting area of the fire to the center of the warehouse, where a natural gas furnace had stood. At the moment they have no reason to suspect arson, but the investigation is still pending.

The County Materials Testing Laboratory, adjacent to the warehouse, suffered only minor damage including some paint bubbling and broken windows, as well as damaged office equipment, from the radiant heat of the fire.

No injuries were reported.

CR takes another hit

The College of the Redwoods, already reeling from earlier cuts in state funding, will have to shave an additional $246,000 off its budget.

Faced with a record budget deficit, the state has ordered an additional cut of $38 million to the budget for community colleges. That comes on top of $211 million that was cut earlier this year.

"Any business that would be run this way would be out of business," CR President Casey Crabill said in a press release. "The state is walking away from its commitment to community college students at a time when California needs a skilled and educated workforce more than ever to help the economy rebound."

The cuts are expected to heavily affect CR's summer schedule, but decisions on the details have yet to be made.

Tackling gas prices

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, has introduced legislation aimed at reining in gas prices, which broke the $2-a-gallon mark here last week.

The heart of the legislation is a rule that would require oil companies to charge the same wholesale price regardless of service station ownership.

"This is timely legislation that will provide long-needed reforms to restore fairness and competition to wholesale fuel pricing," Thompson said in a press release. "Northern California motorists should not be paying on average 20 cents more per gallon than the rest of the U.S."

Nationwide gas prices are at a 20-month high and in Eureka the gas price is a full 27 cents higher than the national average.

Thompson introduced similar legislation during the last Congress that foundered. This time around he has the support of the Service Station Dealers of America, among others.

The bill is expected to be referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.

Meningitis surfaces

Three children between the ages of 9 and 15 contracted meningitis last month, a potentially fatal disease that is highly curable if caught early.

The children, who live in McKinleyville, Arcata and Eureka, are recovering.

While health officials were avoiding the term "outbreak," the number of cases represented about half the number of people in Humboldt County who get the disease in a normal year.

None of the cases appear to be related -- the children attend different schools in different regions of the county. The only thing in common, besides the disease itself, was that the kids came down with the illness during the week of Feb. 17-21, a vacation period for local schools.

Early signs include a sudden fever, headache, a stiff neck, confusion and a rash. If someone thinks they may be coming down with the disease they should immediately consult a physician.

The disease is spread through saliva so sharing drinks, lipstick and food utensils should be avoided. Kissing is another way the disease spreads.

For more information, call 268-2105.

Illegal outfitters beware

Attention, unlicensed fishing guides: The U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game are coming to get you.

In the last few years an increase in fish runs has led to an increase in the number of illegal outfitter guides, and the government has initiated a crackdown.

So far one guide has been cited in Orleans and investigations are ongoing in the Happy Camp and Willow Creek areas. Penalties for illegal outfitting can include up to one year in jail, a $1,000 fine and confiscation of fishing equipment and boats.

Animal shelter out to bid

County supervisors put the design of a state-of-the-art animal control shelter out for bid Tuesday.

One county official said the facility, to be located on Hilfiker Lane behind Pierson's Building Center in Eureka, could cost any where from $1.5 million to as much as $4.5 million.

"But we just don't know. It's one of the reasons we're asking for proposals," said Alexandra Wineland, deputy county administrator.

The shelter will serve unincorporated areas of the county as well as the cities of Blue Lake, Arcata and Eureka.

Supervisor Bonnie Neely cited a stumbling block. The city of Eureka, which owns the property, is looking into rezoning it from coastal dependent to public facilities, a request that requires approval of the Coastal Commission. Such approval could take six to eight months. The county would seek a long-term lease from the city and in turn, Eureka would pay the county for animal control services.

The county and cities previously contracted with the Sequoia Humane Society, a nonprofit, for animal control services, including housing of strays and euthanasia. County costs for animal services rose from about $10,000 per month in fiscal year 2000 to more than $35,000 per month this year due in part to new state laws.

Farewell to Orick Johnny

John Joseph "Orick Johnny" Antonioli passed away last week at the age of 81. The gruff, opinionated but eminently lovable local character touched many people over the years, many of whom gave him rides as he hitchhiked from Arcata to his childhood home of Orick.

A packed memorial service was held at Paul's Chapel in Arcata last Friday where Arcata Mayor Bob Ornelas and former City Councilmember Robert Noble, along with many others, spoke of how Johnny touched their lives.

He passed away in his Arcata home on Feb. 24.

Donations can be made in his memory to St. Mary's Catholic Church, 1690 Janes Road, Arcata or the Newman Center at Humboldt State University.


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