Beleaguered hospital hit by scandal

As a manager accused of bilking public funds from the San Mateo Medical Center appeared in court Monday, officials at the struggling county hospital said they were dismayed by the charges.

Henry Ralph Lopez, 53, appeared in a Redwood City courtroom Monday to face eight counts of felony embezzlement that carry a maximum term of seven and a half years. The Los Banos resident, who was arrested Friday, remains in jail on $75,000 bail.

Meanwhile, San Mateo Medical Center spokesman Dave Hook said the hospital has launched an internal audit in response to the incident and will retrain all employees on policies surrounding financial transactions. Lopez remains on paid administrative leave.

“It’s a very difficult time for us with the budget challenges we have. This is very disturbing news for us,” Hook said.

Last month, hospital officials said they might have to turn away some patients in order to fill a $5 million budget hole.

Lopez, the environmental services manager who has overseen housekeeping since 1999, was arrested by District Attorney’s Office investigators Friday.

Authorities say that from July 2007 to last month, Lopez embezzled $17,000 by arranging to have a San Francisco film company write checks to him instead of to the county in order to be allowed to film at the hospital. Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said prosecutors obtained ATM video footage of Lopez depositing the checks in his account eight times.

“It’s the theft of public money. In these days of restrictive budgets and hiring freezes, every penny matters,” Wagstaffe said.

Lopez’s son, 30-year-old Jonathan Lopez, said the family was shocked by the arrest.

“I don’t know all the facts, but I think the charges are false,” he said.

Three of Lopez’s former employees who claim he forced them out of their positions watched his court appearance. Margarita Krebs, who claims she was forced into an early retirement by Lopez in 2001, said Lopez squeezed out numerous longtime employees when he was hired by the hospital.

“What goes around comes around,” she said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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