A Merced-area health clinic, which serves thousands of people, remains open during bankruptcy. But patients say they can’t see doctors or get their medical records.
The mystery surrounding the nonprofit Horisons Unlimited Health Care clinic includes reports from patients that clinics are closing, doctors have disappeared, staff has been laid off and dental services have been shuttered. Some patients say staff has told them to find other doctors.
Dozens of attempts to reach the clinic, its attorneys and administrators have been ignored. Phone calls have been made to each of the group’s eight clinics in Merced, Madera, Mariposa and Stanislaus counties.
Chowchilla resident Sandy Caracciolo said she and her two daughters have been treated at various Horisons sites for medical and dental services for the past four years.
That ended abruptly last week — again without much explanation.
Caracciolo said she was turned away July 3 from the Chowchilla site during a walk-in visit. She said employees told her the on-call doctor had refused to come into work that day and they couldn’t tell her why.
A few days later, Caracciolo said, someone from the Chowchilla clinic called and canceled one of her daughter’s dental appointments because Horisons just stopped offering dental services.
She started calling other Horisons clinics around the valley, she said, and learned there were no longer any dentists or orthodontists working at any of the clinics.
She said she asked them what she could do.
“They told me to start calling around (for other providers),” Caracciolo said. “I freaked out and started calling dentists and orthodontists.”
Caracciolo is one of the several patients who have spoken with the Sun-Star, saying they haven’t been given care by the clinic or received an explanation on what they can do.
For months, 30-year-old Cierra Shelton said she’s been trying to see a doctor for her hypertension. When she tried last week to schedule an appointment, she said she was told all the clinics in Merced County were closing.
She said the staffer told her Horisons had been purchased by another company and many clinic employees were out of work. Shelton said she’s been trying to get her medical records from the clinics, but she hasn’t received any help.
Caracciolo, who has since switched dental providers, said the clinic has only given her a portion of the medical records her daughters need.
Horisons in May filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Clinic attorneys told the Sun-Star the filing would protect the medical offices and the clinics would not close.
Office hours and services at Merced County clinics have been inconsistent during at least the past two weeks and office staff have provided little information.
The doors of the main Merced office on West Main Street were closed Monday during regular business hours. The Livingston clinic was open Tuesday, but no patients were being accepted or seen, according to office staff. The site in Los Banos was open Wednesday, but is only offering orthopedic services, office staff said.
Whether the embattled clinics are still accepting Medi-Cal also remains unclear.
Horisons is not listed as one of the clinics in the county that accept Medi-Cal patients, according to officials at the Central California Alliance for Health, the exclusive Medi-Cal insurance provider for Merced County.
The Horisons website, however, states it is accepting Medi-Cal.
In Merced County, about 51 percent of people are insured under Medi-Cal, a health care program in California that serves low-income people.
Horisons provides medical care to “tens of thousands of underserved patients throughout the greater Central Valley region,” according to legal documents filed through the U.S Bankruptcy Court Eastern District of California Fresno Division.
Legal representatives for Horisons, Aaron Dyer and Gerry Hinkley, did not respond to numerous messages seeking comment. The clinic’s chief financial officer, Daniel Kazakos, also did not reply to repeated messages.
Documents filed through Merced Superior Court named Cylia Estrada as the interim CEO after longtime CEO Sandra Haar was fired and sued amid embezzlement allegations.
After calling the clinic to speak with Estrada for comment June 29, the Sun-Star was told she no longer worked for Horisons and nobody took over her position.
Members of the health clinic’s governing board also have been embroiled in a legal battle, with two sides pitting lawsuits against one another over allegations of mismanagement and misuse of financial assets.
The clinics are required to provide patients with their medical records, according to Lou Burton, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.
“(Health care providers) must uphold their responsibility under the Privacy Rule to provide patients with access to their medical records, and adhere closely to all of (medical privacy laws) requirements, even when a provider closes a practice,” he said in an email.
If people are finding it difficult to get a copy of their medical records, Burton said, they can file a complaint through his department.
A husband and wife from Turlock say the abrupt and mysterious breakdown at the clinics cost them $1,000.
Hilda Reyes was trying to find her husband an appointment at the Newman clinic to fix a crown in his tooth, which had fallen out a day after a Horisons dentist put it in, she said. Reyes said she was supposed to hear back from them in two weeks.
When that didn’t happen, Reyes said, she called and was notified the Newman clinic was closing.
“I don’t know what to do because my husband has no insurance and paid out of pocket,” Reyes said. “He can’t pay again. We’re kind of stuck right now. We did depend on this clinic for health care. What do we do?”