How developers, corporations, and city contractors buy influence in San Francisco City Hall -- a 47th anniversary Guardian special investigation
FROM PATIENTS TO PARTIES
In 2010 and 2011, Laguna Honda Hospital administrators and staff used money from the hospital's patient gift fund to throw a party. And then they spent it on airfare. And then they gave laser-engraved pedometers to the staff. All told, they spent nearly $350,000 meant for the dying and the infirm, nearly half of the total funds.
The incident was big, messy, and out in the public eye. It was an all-too-rare glimpse into the shady use of public funds by public officials. But when hospital staff members Dr. Derek Kerr and Dr. Maria Rivero blew the whistle on Laguna Honda's misuse of patient funds in 2010, they were drummed out of their jobs.
Eventually litigation on behalf of the whistleblowers and their complaints of corruption were found to have merit.
Kerr's vindication came at a meeting of the Health Commission in April 2013. In the packed City Hall meeting room, the public watched as Laguna Honda Executive Director Mivic Hirose read her apology to Kerr and Rivero aloud, even announcing a plaque in Kerr's honor.
"The hospital will install the plaque in the South 3 Hospice," she read, stiltedly, from a written statement, surrounded by microphones at the podium. "The plaque will say: In recognition of Derek Kerr MD of his contributions to the Laguna Honda's hospice and palliative care program 1989-2010."
Kerr received a settlement of $750,000 and something more important: His good name cleared.
But that conflict of interest was rooted out only after years of litigation that revealed the financial abuse through legal discovery of the department's documents — documents that should've been public in the first place. ABC 7's I-Team broke the story and did much of the reporting at the time, otherwise the entire affair may have been swept under the rug.
The misuse of funds was only brought to light with the revelation of public documents — revelations not possible with most Friends groups. The Laguna Honda Hospital Foundation has also had financial dealings with potential conflicts and a lack of transparency.
The now-defunct LHHF's board chair, former City Attorney Louise Renne, made an interesting choice for her vice chair after she formed the nonprofit in 2003. Derek Parker was vice chair of the LHHF while simultaneously heading architecture firm Anshen-Allen, with a $585 million city contract to rebuild the hospital.
So he was not only rebuilding Laguna Honda under city contract, but soliciting and spending donations meant to supplement his project. Renne wrote to the Health Commission in December 2011 that LHHF's purpose was to manage over $15 million in donations meant to furnish the hospital with beds, chairs, and other necessities. Eventually, then-Mayor Willie Brown found funding for the hospital, reducing the foundation's role.
In a phone interview with the Guardian, Renne said the goals of the LHHF were only ever to furnish the newly christened hospital. "Our purpose was to fill the void, if you will, for what the city and its services could not do," she said.
But in her letter, Renne advocated for LHHF to take an active role in fundraising for the hospital for years to come. "Today, the members of the Board of Directors of the Foundation continue to assist the hospital in various phases of its new projects and operations with projects approved by the City and/or the hospital administration," she wrote to the Health Commission.
And Parker would have potentially managed millions of dollars flowing through donations for countless other hospital projects, while heading an architectural firm with contracts to build in San Francisco. We were unable to reach Parker for comment.
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