State moves to close Pedro Espada's clinics

May 18, 2012 3:39:52 PM PDT
The state health department is moving to close the struggling health care network founded by ex-politician Pedro Espada Jr. following his conviction on charges stemming from allegations he looted from the nonprofit clinics.

Representatives from Soundview Health Care Network said Friday they were working to stave off the closure and keep the struggling clinics afloat because patients needed the medical care.

The New York State Department of Health said it did a site visit at Soundview on May 1 and uncovered deficiencies at the facilities, including inadequate supplies. They requested a plan to fix the problems, but deemed Soundview's plan unacceptable and moved Thursday to close the clinics. They said they are in the process of helping the patients find alternative care through nearby health care providers.

It was the latest blow to struggling Soundview, started by Espada in 1978 in the South Bronx, in one of the poorest counties in the U.S. In the past three decades, the clinic grew to include four centers that provide health care and social services.

Soundview staff had been trying to work out a plan with another provider to take over the network, which has 100,000 patient visits annually, and more than 200 employees, said Soundview spokeswoman Rachel Fasciani.

In August, the health department terminated the clinic's participation in Medicaid, the government-administered health care program for low-income people. The move affected the majority of clinic patients and essentially cut funding to Soundview. The issue is being appealed.

The clinics have remained open but were providing limited medical services.

Espada, a former New York state senator, was convicted May 14 by a federal jury on four counts stemming from allegations that he used taxpayer funds meant to help poor patients for children's pony rides and other personal expenses. A mistrial was declared on four other counts and on all charges against his son, Pedro Gautier Espada.

Prosecutors said the Espadas used the company as a personal ATM, spending on tickets to games and the pony rides, birthday parties, theater and fancy cars, prosecutors said. The clinics were left to struggle with out-of-date machinery, major cash flow problems and few doctors.

Espada, who was at the center of the two most tumultuous years in the history of the New York Senate, described the scrutiny by the U.S. attorney's office and then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as a political "witch hunt." The scandal cost him his Senate seat.

Fasciani echoed the idea, calling the health department's efforts a "vendetta" against Espada, with Soundview patients as collateral damage.

"We are being punished, and the people who are suffering are the patients," she said.

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