■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
Kali P. Chaudhuri, M.D., is a pillar of strength and a force to be reckoned with in the San Jacinto Valley. Chairman and CEO of Physicians for Healthy Hospitals, Inc., which includes hospitals in Hemet and Menifee, California, he is head and shoulders above all others in his dedication to making this community a more productive, more livable and healthier place in which to live and prosper.
For months I made an effort to sit down with him for an interview that I knew would be an important one to me, as a writer, and to the valley, for the information I would be able to convey to the local citizenry.
Dreams of coming to America
Dr. Chaudhuri immigrated to this country from India in 1984.
“From the time I was 8 years old, I knew someday I would come to America,” said Chaudhuri. “I read about this wonderful country and when I was 30, my dreams came true – I landed on this beautiful country’s shores.”
His goal, he states, has always been to build, not destroy.
“My family, for 22 generations has been a family of builders. I know all 22 generations and their histories by heart,” stated Chaudhuri. “My family built elementary schools, colleges, universities and post offices. Always building to create a better life for people. That is within me.”
Wherever he resides, he says, and “wherever you are, keep it going. Make it better. It is my goal and my pleasure to do good things.”
Although the good doctor has business connections and homes throughout the world, he chooses Hemet as his permanent residence. He is a human dynamo. I had difficulty keeping up with all the things he has planned for this community to make it more livable.
Possible plans for the vacant K-Mart building
Why, I asked did he purchase the old K-mart building at State Street and Stetson Avenue, and what does he intend to do there? It is the talk of the town that he has trimmed away the trees and litter in the parking lot.
“Well, you know, we had a clinic just to the west of that building. It became a victim of vandalism and graffiti, so we closed it. Maybe we will open another one in the K-mart facility, I am not sure. As you can see we have cleaned it up and it is no longer an eyesore,” said Chaudhuri. “You ask what will go in there. It is a large building, 83,000 square feet. I have in mind to do something medical there, but who knows. Whatever goes into that facility will be something useful to the community. You can take my word on that. We’ll see what happens.”
He also has another medical facility in the making. He and developer John Petty are responsible for the Ulta Beauty, Sprouts and Burlington Coat Factory facilities located on West Florida Avenue in the old Walmart building. On the west side of Burlington, a new dialysis center and clinic for those who can’t afford to pay will soon be opening, adding a much needed medical facility on that end of town.
$31 million invested in Hemet Valley Medical Center
The question on Hemet minds that is often put forth: What’s happening at the hospital here and in Menifee, but mostly Hemet? Contrary to what some folks think, the two hospitals are out of the red and starting to prosper and, I can tell you the reason why. Dr. Chaudhuri has invested $31 million dollars in Hemet Valley Medical Center in the past two years. If that isn’t dedication, then I don’t understand the meaning of the word. The effect has been electric.
Just recently a new cardiac catheterization center had its grand opening to much fanfare and public speakers at the vacant lot on the southwest corner of Florida Avenue and San Jacinto Street. The event drew an impressive crowd of public officials from San Jacinto, Hemet and County offices.
Medical residency program
I expressed an interest in the addition of a medical residency program.
Dr. Chaudhuri expresses great pride in the complement of new doctors who have decided to do their three-year residency at Hemet Valley. Folks who have had reason to visit the hospital’s emergency room are often astounded to find a resident doctor at their sides throughout their treatment and stay in the ER, which certainly hasn’t always been the case.
“I don’t think anyone in their wildest dreams thought Hemet would support a residency program,” said Chaudhuri. “It is a teaching and learning experience. We get residency doctors from all over the country, New York, Maine and from all over the place. They choose Hemet to serve their residency when they could have their choice of larger hospitals in larger cities. I am proud of that.”
His heavy investments into the medical community include reopening a senior nursing program which was closed down years ago. It has been cleaned up and is now state-of-the-art.
A new stroke center has come about due to the never say no attitude of Dr. Chaudhuri. Hemet Valley Medical Center hasn’t had a trauma center in some 19 years. A modern one will soon be opening.
Perhaps even a medical school?
A major goal and a dream he expects to see realized here within 10 years is a certified medical school.
“It is an ambitious project,” he says. “I will need a lot of help because I cannot do it alone. We are now one of the best hospitals in the state.”
The Joint Commission for Accreditation of Hospitals recently paid a visit to Hemet Valley Medical Center. Their survey took four days and it is easy to see the pride beaming from Dr. Chaudhuri regarding the results of their report.
“This is the golden seal of how hospitals are rated. They conduct very strict inspections – very demanding. We got the highest rating: a Gold Seal. The chief inspector said: ‘This hospital is a model hospital. One of the best.’”
Like other hospitals, Hemet Valley sometimes suffers from a shortage of nurses.
“There has never been a greater need for nurses than now,” said Chaudhuri. “Mt. San Jacinto Community College has a good nursing school and they have been very helpful in filling our need for nurses.”
The local political community has been helpful, he says. “We have never had a problem with any of them.”
Will changes in Affordable Care Act affect the hospital?
People are concerned about the pending change in health insurance and I wanted to know how the hospital had been affected by the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.
“A very good question; sometimes hard to explain,” said Chaudhuri. “I believe it has helped us.”
He didn’t have an opinion about changes that are proposed by Congress in a new health care bill.
“I will have to wait and see. Over all I have no political party but have been Republican leaning,” said Chaudhuri. “Given all I know, Obamacare had shortcomings, but overall it was not bad. Yes, it did need adjustments, but not bad.”
One thing he is not so happy about is the dissension in the country and around the world.
“Let me tell you. I travel all over the world. [I’ve got] business interests in Europe, in India, Australia and other places. Personally I think it is not good,” said Chaudhuri. “The American Revolution gave us a government that has been a mainstay in the world for over 200 years. Somewhere along the way something happened. So much government. Too much materialism.
“I am reminded of a tree in the jungle. A tree doesn’t look good without the jungle and the jungle doesn’t look good without the tree.”
How about the future of medical care?
He hopped on that one. “There is nothing wrong with taking care of the needy, but you cannot take care of the needy without resources. Be that money, or manpower or legislation. As we know, most of the district hospitals in California are bankrupt or gone. Every day there is another closing down.”
Hospital’s bad rep just a distant memory
After all the investment and improvements at the hospital, some folks still criticize and believe that the facility is below standards. Most have not been in the hospital in years and get their information from long ago patients whose treatment may have been different then.
“I find that an interesting subject,” he says. “People who have been to the hospital five years ago, and again now, see the difference. I know those old days. Fighting went on against the hospital. There used to be elections of board members. They spent millions of dollars downplaying the hospital, mostly for their own benefits,” Chaudhuri recalled. “An entity was formed called HDL – Hospital Defense League. It was really Hospital Damage League. In fact, it was destructive to the hospital. People who return here after not being in the hospital for a long time, think the hospital is better. I hear it all the time. Expressions like ‘fantastic’ are common. We are in growth condition.
“I recall when Loma Linda University Hospital opened. The doom and gloom folks were sure we were soon to be history here,” recalled Chaudhuri. “They were wrong then and some of them are still wrong. Now patients from Loma Linda are coming back here again. We have some of the best surgeons and specialists in the world healing people in this valley.”
He might come off the wrong way to some people. He is quite blunt in his speech. “My biggest problem is that I’m not diplomatic. I speak as it comes. Being not diplomatic, people misunderstand my meanings at times. However, I make it plain that I build. I do not tear down.”
Cancer center improvements
There has been talk over the years of establishing a quality cancer center here.
“We do have a cancer center; it is not the way I want to see. One should not expect Hemet to have a cancer center like the ones in New York, but we should have a state-of-the-art screening cancer center and we do,” said Chaudhuri. “For instance, our equipment is the best. Our linear accelerator is the finest available. We can make things better, though, and I am dedicated to make those changes. My commitment is to always make our services better with the most up-to-date equipment and brightest medical personnel.”
What does this linear accelerator do, I needed to know?
“Known in the profession as a LINAC, it uses external beam radiation to treat tumors. It will treat all parts or organs of the body, delivering high energy x-rays or electrons to the region of the patient’s tumor,” explained Chaudhuri. “These treatments can be designed in such a way that they destroy cancer cells while sparing the surrounding normal tissue. In the past, we did not have such sophisticated instruments. Older methods not only destroyed the cancer, but also created unintended problems.”
Proud of all the new instruments and techniques employed at Hemet Valley Medical Center, he is most proud that his family is also making Hemet their nesting place. “My son-in-law is an ophthalmologist and Wharton School graduate, is back in Hemet working as a CPA. My daughter, who married and moved back East, is back here practicing internal medicine. She is a very good physician.” His son, is a UCLA Anderson School and MBA graduate. “My family supports Hemet. We love Hemet.”
Whenever you hear anyone complaining about immigrants, think of Dr. Kali P. Chaudhuri and know what an immigrant can accomplish. Although he is small of stature, he has a massive brain and stands as a giant among much smaller men. We need more, not less, of this kind of man.