Ganado passes resolution to oust Razaghi
By Cindy Yurth
GANADO, Ariz., Oct. 10, 2013
(Times photos – Donovan Quintero)
Amid charges of financial misdeeds, disregarding Navajo preference laws and decreasing services at Sage Memorial Hospital, Ganado Chapter Tuesday night passed a resolution to terminate hospital CEO Ahmad Razaghi and "immediately escort" him from Navajo Nation land.
The angry crowd of about 60 chapter members also refused to officially accept a written report from the hospital's quality council and a community needs assessment, and the future looks bleak for the hospital's recent proposal to build an outpatient medical center on the former site of the chapter's flea market.
Technically, the chapter has no authority over the non-profit, PL 638 hospital built on private land owned by the Presbytery of the Grand Canyon, other than to appoint a representative to its eight-member board of directors (which recently signed a seven-year contract with Razaghi's company, Razaghi Healthcare).
However, proponents of the resolution said they hope it will spur the board, the Navajo Nation and federal authorities to investigate and take action against Razaghi.
It also asks that all the board members be replaced, but that may be difficult as well, since, under the hospital's bylaws, it's up to Razaghi to decide whether a nominated board member is qualified.
Razaghi himself was expected to be at the meeting to defend himself and the hospital from the charges, but he wasn't present.
The hospital's program manager, Netrisha Dalgai, said he wasn't aware of the meeting and asked that the resolution be tabled until he could be present, but other chapter members said Razaghi should have been well aware of the meeting, as the hospital was asked at last month's chapter meeting to present reports and there were already allegations swirling.
Razaghi resides in Las Vegas, Nev., and according to some Sage employees visits the hospital about twice a month. He has not returned an email asking for comment, and the Razaghi Healthcare website, which was up last week, is currently password-protected and "under construction."
"Where is your leader?" Theresa Gorman challenged the hospital officials who were present. "He doesn't stand with you. He's pushing you forward: 'Say this about me!'"
Gorman co-sponsored the resolution, which passed 67-0-6, with former Navajo Nation President Milton Bluehouse Sr.
Two weeks ago, five former hospital employees came forward with documents and allegations that Razaghi contracted with his own company to provide employees for Sage, charging fees as much as 60 percent on top of the employees' salaries.
They also said Razaghi unlawfully used hospital funds to pay a legal settlement when one of his company's doctors was slapped with a malpractice suit, and even tapped the hospital for legal fees when his brother sued him.
Topping off the allegations was a charge that Razaghi paid himself a $1.8 million bonus last year while other employees had not had a raise in three years.
The board of directors, which was supposed to be policing Razaghi, instead signed off on anything they wanted, the whistleblowers charged, because Razaghi was treating them to lavish meetings in Las Vegas and trainings in Palm Springs and Hawaii -- also at the hospital's expense.
Of several directors and hospital officials present at the meeting, only Ganado's representative, Ambrose Shepherd, answered the charges.
Shepherd reminded the attenders that when Razaghi stepped in, Sage was $1.8 million in the hole and several of its departments had lost their certification.
Razaghi negotiated a much larger contract with the Indian Health Service and was able to turn the hospital around within one year of his employment in 2007.
"We got certified," Shepherd said. "I'm proud of what we did."
Other than Shepherd, board members sat stoically through allegations that care at the hospital had deteriorated to the point that long-time patients were going elsewhere, and that Navajo staff seemed to be fired for no reason and replaced with people Razaghi brought in from the outside.
"Enough's enough!" said Angie Boloz, the former assistant director of nursing who said she was fired eight days after Razaghi told her "Keep up the good work."
"Put these puppets where they belong!" Boloz cried, referring to the board members and hospital officials.
Caleb Lauber, a Navajo doctor who said he was fired four weeks after being hired as head of the hospital's diabetes program, said that while local newspapers had focused on Razaghi's $1.8 million bonus, "that's the tip of the iceberg."
He estimates as much as $40 million in taxpayer money is missing, pointing out that Razaghi not only doubled the hospital's annual IHS grant from $10 to $20 million, but cut departments.
"He got rid of obstetrics, he got rid of optometry -- even then there was $10 million that was gone that year," Lauber said. "Where did it go?"
Lauber said he was hired in 2010 to head the diabetes program, funded by a $265,000 grant, but near as he could tell, the diabetes program was non-existent. There were times, he said, when his department ran out of basic items like syringes.
"The staff wanted to buy a van so they could go to the patients, they wanted to buy exercise equipment (for diabetes prevention), and we kept getting turned down," Lauber said. "When I wanted to do a financial review to find out where the money went, they fired me."
Lauber tried to protest to the board, but was not allowed in its meeting.
For Lauber, getting fired from Sage was personal. He was born in the hospital, his father was a student at the Presbyterian mission school there, and his grandmother taught there.
"It just breaks my heart," he told the board members present at the meeting. "You are hurting the Navajo people."
Lauber suggested strengthening Gorman's resolution to remove not only Razaghi but anyone associated with Razaghi Healthcare, Morgan and Associates (the Navajo-owned company that originally contracted with Sage and employed Razaghi), anyone associated with Ahmad Razaghi and the board of directors.
Another amendment was added to prevent retaliation against current Sage employees who spoke up at the meeting.
Chapter members approved the amendments.
The resolution also urges the Navajo Nation's Health and Human Services Committee, the Indian Health Service, the Navajo Nation Department of Justice and Navajo Nation law enforcement's white-collar crime section to audit the hospital's books and investigate Razaghi.
The only person to speak against the resolution was Levina George.
"Even if he's a criminal, he needs a chance to defend himself," George said of Razaghi. "We're just reading in the newspaper. We need to hear his side. If we accept Theresa's resolution, we'll be making a mistake."
The hospital board's chairman, Stenson Wauneka, declined to comment after the meeting. He did hand out flyers for the proposed new medical center, which would include specialty clinics, dialysis, behavioral health, outpatient surgery and other services.
The clinic has not officially come before the chapter, which could potentially deny the business site lease.
Meanwhile, the Council's Health and Human Services Committee was scheduled to receive a report from the hospital board Wednesday. The meeting concluded after press time.