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Embattled RoxComp facility could be sold to meet debt

$3M debt includes wages to more than 80 full-time employees

Howard Manly

As the court-appointed receiver of the troubled Roxbury Comprehensive Health Center, Joseph Feaster knew he had his work cut out for him.

Now that he has been at the helm for the last two months, Feaster says “there’s little sense in pointing fingers at anyone at this time.”

Feaster’s job is to close out the accounts at RoxComp and that could very well mean selling the center’s building on Warren Street to meet an estimated $3 million in debt.

Included in that debt is about $500,000 in wages to about 85 full-time employees who were not paid for two periods shortly before the center was closed earlier this year.

With only between $300,000 and $500,000 in outstanding payments owed to the Center, Feaster said the shortfall is demanding a thorough look at all of RoxComp’s assets. “We’re dealing with auditors right now,” Feaster said in a wide-ranging interview. “We’ve already contacted a real estate appraiser and broker.”

Court documents detail a litany of serious deficiencies at RoxComp under the leadership of CEO Anita Crawford, who abruptly resigned earlier this year.

The sale of the building would be a dramatic end to one of the most enduring health institutions in Roxbury. Started in 1969, its mission was to serve those in the community with little money and a myriad of health issues.

That mission never changed, but for a variety of reasons, the center’s management became what state Attorney General Martha Coakley characterized as “dysfunctional.”

It was Coakley who recommended Feaster, an attorney at McKenzie and Associates and former interim president and CEO of Dimock Health Center, to serve as receiver, a recommendation that was approved by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Garry Inge.

Citing “severe dysfunction” with finances, administration and patient services, Coakley explained that a receiver was necessary “because the Center is incapable of taking steps necessary to preserve the health, safety and well-being of its patients; wind down its operations and conserve the center’s assets.”

Court documents detail a litany of serious deficiencies at RoxComp under the leadership of CEO Anita Crawford, who abruptly resigned earlier this year. Among the ongoing problems are failures to notify an estimated 4,000 patients about its closure and failure to pay its employees after they were effectively terminated on March 20, 2013.

The center terminated its clinical laboratory services in June 2012 because state public health regulators found “serious, unsafe patient care practices.”

Two months later, DPH suspended RoxComp’s dental services for similar unsafe patient care practices, including improper equipment sterilization and unsanitary conditions.

In all, federal regulators found that the center was not in compliance with 14 of 19 program requirements. They found “severe dysfunction with the Center’s administrative, financial and management functions, including the center’s board of directors.”

The problems continued this year. After a January 2013 site visit, state health regulators ordered the center to give up a drug treatment program as a result of “serious regulatory violations, including the lack of drug screening, the lack of random call-backs for persons on take home dosing regiments and low methadone stock.”

The problems were not limited to the center’s health care services. Regulators found that the financial systems were inadequate, forcing vendors to terminate services for the disposal of medical wastes. The center was also deficient in medical record-keeping, nursing supplies and site security.

Worse, RoxComp Board Chairman Keith Crawford couldn’t devise an appropriate plan to solve its chronic problems.

It is unclear at this time whether the mismanagement at the center will lead to any criminal charges. Federal and state investigators have subpoenaed financial records and board minutes to see if any misuse of federal funds occurred.

According to court records, the center received $1.9 million in federal funds but has shown an annual loss of about $400,000. Federal and state regulators caution that the Center’s financial statements have not been audited in several years in part because it still owes $35,000 to the firm that performed them in the past.

The problems started last summer when a series of letters by employees described the woeful state of operation at the center. The problems included mislabeled lab samples, use of expired medical supplies and failure to comply with various Medicaid and Medicare regulations.

The damaging letters detailed financial problems ranging from the loss of “significant grants” that helped pay for medical and psychological programs, to an almost chronic shortage of medical equipment, paper towels and toilet paper. In some cases, the letters alleged, the center had no hot water.

At the time, Crawford questioned not only the validity of the unsigned, anonymous letters but also the timing. “None of the letters,” Crawford told the Bay State Banner, “accuse me of stealing money or running a center that is delivering poor health care.”

Feaster is clear about his role. “I am not the enemy,” Feaster said. “I didn’t create these problems, but I am here to solve them. It is a tragedy that the Roxbury community is losing a health center, but our effort is to insure that the provision of medical services is not diminished.”

Access to medical records has been one problem that Feaster said he has taken tangible steps to improve. Since RoxComp’s closing, Feaster established a hotline (617-318-1700) to help patients access their records either on paper or electronically. Feaster says the hotline has been receiving about 20 telephone calls a day for a variety of issues, including access to medical records.

As far as the outstanding payroll, Feaster says “the debt is clearly owed, but how it will be paid” remains in question.

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