From the daily archives: Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Calexico, CA.  San Diego State University-Imperial Valley will hold a Study Abroad Fair on Wednesday, September 22, 2010 from 4:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the John Steppling Art Gallery.   There will be information provided by program leaders about study abroad opportunities for students available worldwide, students who have gone abroad will share their experiences, pictures and artifacts from around the world will be on display, and a study abroad photo contest will take place.

Study Abroad Programs offer students’ knowledge beyond the classroom from understanding the language and culture of another country to adventures and high value learning experiences.   For further information about the program, contact Miriam C. Castañon, International Programs Coordinator at SDSU-IV at 760-768-5505 or


Mexican drug cartels run the billion-dollar trafficking operations that bring so much crime and violence to both sides of the Southwest border. But it’s street gangs that carry out the cartels’ dirty work of smuggling, extortion, and murder. Understanding the gangs—their structure, culture, and tactics—is the job of agents who specialize in collecting human intelligence, or HUMINT.

In our El Paso Field Office, the HUMINT squad pays particular attention to Barrio Azteca, the city’s predominant gang whose leaders regularly do business from prison—even authorizing contract killings.

“The focus of the HUMINT squad is not to worry about making individual cases,” said Special Agent Armando Ramos, a senior investigator on the team. “Our job is to see the big picture—whether it’s Barrio Azteca or any other gang—so we can effectively target these groups and the larger drug trafficking organizations they associate with.”

Intelligence gathering is critical to seeing that big picture. And Agent Ramos, working closely with officers from the El Paso Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, collect intelligence in a variety of ways. They get tips from police officers on the street, recruit sources from the ranks of disgruntled gang members, and make contact with recently arrested gang members who may be looking for a more lenient sentence in exchange for their cooperation.

“Whatever intelligence we gain, we pass on to our Safe Streets Task Force and to other law enforcement agencies,” Agent Ramos said. “We get the information out quickly to where it can do the most good.”

The actionable intelligence collected by the HUMINT squad could lead to arrests, drug seizures, or the prevention of crimes such as kidnapping or murder. There are dozens of different gangs operating along the Southwest border—some of them cooperate and some are bitter rivals—but the one thing they all share in common is violence.

Barrio Azteca—known as BA—is an extremely violent gang, with as many as 3,500 members on the street and in jail, both in El Paso and across the Rio Grande in Juarez, Mexico. Even though the Bureau put together a major racketeering case against the gang several years ago that effectively dismantled its leadership, the group has reorganized, and younger members—dubbed the “Pepsi Generation”—have been promoted to top positions.

Agent Ramos has been on the HUMINT squad for about three years and has an intimate knowledge of BA culture and its leaders. “The players are always changing, and so are their tactics,” he said. “That’s why HUMINT is so valuable, because we are able to keep pace with gang activities and be proactive in our response.”

But the job requires constant vigilance, he explained, because of how integral crime and violence are to the gang’s culture. BA’s constitution—its “sacred bible”—lists dozens of rules members must follow. Rule Number Two is, “Always dominate your opponent.” Rule Number One: “Once you get in, you can’t get out.”

“After you become a member,” Agent Ramos said, “there are only two ways to get out of BA—get killed or get arrested. With that kind of mindset, you can see why the work of the HUMINT squad is so important.”


EL CENTRO, Calif. – September 20, 2010 – ECRMC announced today that it has paid approximately $2.2 million in Medicare over billings.

The hospital was notified of an investigation, starting in mid-2007, brought forth by a former employee. The suit alleged that Medicare billings for inpatient care short stays should have been classified as outpatient services. ECRMC has been cooperating with investigators since approached. After thorough investigations only isolated Medicare billing issues have been identified. Not all Medicare billings were affected and patient and private insurance billings were not affected.

The majority of the instances, occurred from 2000 to 2003 and no allegations were made with respect to the Hospital’s quality of care, the issue was due to incorrect service designation between inpatient and outpatient observation services. All patients were given their needed medical care. Patients seeking both inpatient care and outpatient care received the highest quality of medical care available locally and ECRMC remains committed to being a ‘Community of Care.’

“It is an unfortunate error in reporting,” said David Green, CEO of ECRMC. “This was an unintentional mistake that has been identified and rectified. The issue is a very complicated procedure for proper designation and has been problematic for many hospitals nationwide.”

The hospital continues to take its Medicare billing obligation very seriously and remains committed to compliance with all laws, regulations and guidance relating to its participation in Medicare and other healthcare programs. This settlement has not affected the provider status of ECRMC as a Medicare provider.

“This settlement is a business decision by the Hospital, as approved by the Board of Directors,” said Green. “It was determined that this is in the best interest of all involved including the hospital, its employees and the community to resolve this issue and move forward with our mission to provide healthcare excellence to the community.”

The hospital has implemented several changes to its utilization review management, coding documentation and billing processes in order to more accurately document the assignment of patient status. “Although these cases are not recent, and this issue is far more widespread than just our local hospital, we take this situation very seriously and are taking the necessary steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” said Green.

“ECRMC has and will continue to provide the best health care available in the region,” added Green. “The hospital is instituting state-of-the-art tracking systems and modern procedures, which will help to avoid paperwork errors such as this in the future.”


El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC) is a licensed 165-bed general acute care facility located in El Centro, Calif. ECRMC is committed to providing the community with high quality healthcare as reflected in its mission statement: “To Provide Healthcare Excellence For The Imperial Valley.”

ECRMC is moving forward with the planning and development of the hospital expansion project that will replace the older portion of the hospital. In addition, the hospital is developing a state-of-the-art facility to meet the needs of the Imperial Valley and provide an advanced healthcare facility and service, helping ECRMC continue to achieve it’s goal of providing excellence in healthcare.

Recent additions to the hospital include the opening of the Wound Care Center; the implementation of the Hospitalist Program; the Asthma and Diabetes Program; and the Children’s Specialist Program. A new Outpatient Center is planned in order to continue excellent service within the local community.

ECRMC has also recently announced a collaboration with the Oncology and Hematology Center of Imperial Valley to create the El Centro Regional Medical Center Oncology and Hematology Center. Maintaining its commitment to medical technology advancement, the hospital has invested in the da Vinci Si HD Surgical System. The surgery system allows for safe and less intrusive procedures in various surgical fields, including urology, cardiology, obstetrics/gynecology and more.

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