CRYSTAL RIVER — The owner of Christ Medical Center confirmed Monday he cut his entire staff on Thursday because, he said, about half of the employees had bad work attitudes and had received negative patient and administrative reviews.
But contrary to an earlier report that roughly 70 employees were let go, Dr. Eihab Tawfik said the number was about 20. And since then he re-hired 10 after further checks revealed they were not among the “bad apples” and were hard workers, he said.
The clinic, at 7562 State Road 44, Crystal River, had closed last Friday while the employee situation was sorted out. However, it opened Monday morning, albeit with roughly half the staff.
Tawfik said Thursday’s drastic action had been expected for at least three to four months as negative reports surfaced from patients and the clinic’s administrator.
“We had to clean house first,” he said.
Some of those let go had been observed walking the hallways and doing nothing, he said, adding some others simply had negative attitudes toward their jobs.
“I just don’t think (they’re) going to change anywhere they go,” Tawfik said.
Tawfik said things were running more smoothly than he expected Monday and the remaining staff was handling the patient volume. Tawfik said he was also seeing patients to help shoulder the load.
At mid-day Monday, the waiting room was filled with about a dozen patients and many had nothing but good things to say about the clinic. Some had not heard it had been closed Friday or that the firings had occurred.
“I’m glad he hired some back,” said Teresa Pallin of Homosassa, who recently moved here from Wisconsin.
Brian Linhart drove from Ocala to see a physician here. Staff was kind and caring, he said.
“I came here and they put me right on the schedule,” he said.
Tawfik said some critics had been complaining of needless tests given to some patients and running up bills. Tawfik said new medical guidelines call for more preventative tests to catch possible heart attacks, strokes or diabetes before they occur.
Deborah Garcia Larondo of Crystal River said she had been coming to see physicians at the clinic for two years and has had no problems. In fact, thanks to what she called diligent tests, they found that she had cancer and was able to get prompt treatment.
Tawfik denied rumors that his clinic is the focus of an investigation. Without giving specifics, he did say it is undergoing a routine insurance audit. He referred other questions to his attorney, Bill Grant.
Grant said his client is undergoing an audit by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CFMMS). Christ Medical Center, he said, is a multi-specialty function and Tawfik is an internist and not allowed to perform certain procedures. Being what is called an ‘outlier,’ CFMMS wants to be assured the center is able to perform the necessary treatments.
“This is very, very normal,” Grant said. “Approximately 15 percent of the practitioners countrywide get these outlier audits.”
Tawfik said he is confident the audit will not find anything amiss in the way the clinic does its business.
“There’s nothing here,” he said.
Chris Smith, who works for Likwid Communications and is the clinic’s IT person, said Tawfik has asked that he help in the short term to get things up and running.
Smith said he agrees that firing the whole bunch of employees was a bit drastic.
“It’s a little unorthodox, but sometimes extreme circumstances require extreme measures,” he said.
Smith said much of the dust-up was being played out on social media sites and the regular patients had little or no idea what was occurring.
Tawfik said rather than this being a negative event, the people should be glad he took measures to improve patient service. The clinic can see as many as 300-500 patients a day, he said.
“The community should be happy they have Christ Medical Clinic here in Citrus County,” he said.
Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205, firstname.lastname@example.org.