By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The 60-ish Creary was a powerful and controversial character on the Lynwood health campus, who drove a fancy import car to work and deported himself with considerable swagger and swank. He was also, often, at bureaucratic war with his employees, colleagues and even superiors.
Now Creary is finally out of his main job running family medicine at Charles Drew University Medical School, which is closely affiliated with King hospital. His exit comes after public controversies involving staff assignments and litigation over his refusal to allow the county access to his patient medical records. No Drew University official returned calls asking for comment, but staff in his former office confirmed his departure. Confirmation also came from assistant county health director Donald Thomas.
Creary‘s separation can easily be read as a setback for the doctor, given that he spent much time and money trying to prove that he -- and not county and King-Drew officials -- was in the right regarding any number of disputes over the years. But the blow to Creary’s reputation is modest compared to what he already has endured in a Northern California case, one that never got public notice in Southern California.
This out-of-town dark spot in his not-too-distant past is a late-1995 $535,000 judgment and injunction against Creary and an associate in Alameda County Superior Court, never reported in Los Angeles. The judgment basically ordered one of his profitable side businesses -- a 6,000-member Bay Area HMO -- to halt unethical hard-sell and operating practices. According to Alameda County officials, the clinic still operates, without continuing problems, under the permanent conditions of the civil judgment.
In the original Alameda County complaint, Creary, his clinical and usual business partner Patricia Matthews-Juarez, and the Creary-owned firm called California Family Care Services were accused of violating state law with an aggressive door-to-door campaign (mostly focused in the Latino community), in which sales representatives signed up clients while failing to tell them they could no longer be treated by their own physicians. (These clients were gathered up under a state law that allows Medi-Cal patients to chose their own care-provider health plan.) Further, according to Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Laurinda Ochoa, getting out of the Creary plan was made quite difficult for dissatisfied customers.
In an interview, Ochoa asserted that “the Alameda County grand jury was about to indict” Creary and Matthews-Juarez on criminal charges when the civil-court judgment was issued. As is usual in such agreements, there was no admission of wrongdoing; the signatories, however, are permanently bound to refrain from enumerated wrongful practices, under severe penalties of law.
Although based in Los Angeles, California Family Care operated two clinics in Oakland and East Oakland. The Oakland Tribune reported that, while California Family Care was not the first health plan to be accused of violating state business and welfare laws “by misleading people into enrolling,” it was the first to be sued for doing so in Alameda County.
Court documents alleged that the California Family Care patients were denied the forms necessary to exit the program. And that Creary‘s operation also failed promptly to notify the state when a patient did manage to leave the plan. As a result, the papers state, in 50 documented cases, the Creary HMO continued to collect the up-to-$80-a-month state reimbursement for patients no longer in its care.
The stipulated judgment of December 4, 1995, enjoins California Family Care from more than 20 enumerated activities. These included enrolling non-English-speaking patients over the phone or in person without having an interpreter available; employing hard-sell marketers working on a pure commission basis; and failing to supervise those marketers’ pitches and sales techniques. The injunction also required the firm “to maintain and, on 24 hours notice, to make available for inspection to any member of the Office of the District Attorney of Alameda County all documents, logs and reports relating to enrollment, disenrollment and patient grievances.”
The county of Los Angeles could have used something like that settlement agreement in its dealings with Creary. Last year, Creary succeeded for several months in stonewalling auditors from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services from reviewing records of King-Drew--affiliated clinical practices that he managed. Creary associate Paul Juarez (who failed to return calls for this story) at that time told the county bean counters -- in correspondence acquired by the Weekly -- that the county‘s request for record access was an “illicit seizure” bid that compromised patient privacy rights. County officials, in turn, contended that they wanted to audit patient care and check for financial improprieties, which they said they had a right to do.
Prior to Creary’s departure, county officials apparently obtained access to many of these records. But with Creary gone from the scene, it‘s most likely that nothing further will happen regarding this review of patient records, according to assistant county health director Thomas.
Thomas added that the subject of the Alameda County injunction “came up in the course” of recent county attempts to access Creary’s King-Drew clinical records. Prosecutor Ochoa said her office had not contacted the county, but added that state officials were “aware of our judgment,” information regarding which could easily have made its way to L.A.