Grand Rapids, Michigan clinic Cherry Health, a 501(c)3 Federally Qualified Health Center, came under fire Wednesday after Project Veritas published a video that appears to show the organization and CBS News used “fake patients” during a report about coronavirus testing.
Now, a current employee who spoke on condition of anonymity and a former employee of the clinic who worked there for six years but was fired under questionable circumstances exclusively tell Breitbart News allegations of politicking, retribution, and corruption go far beyond a staged news report.
In March, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appeared alongside former Vice President Joe Biden–the presumptive 2020 Democrat presidential nominee–during a campaign event at Cherry Health the day before the Michigan primary:
Michigan Gov @gretchenwhitmer introduces @JoeBiden at a Grand Rapids health center this morning, saying, “I know Joe…Joe knows and cares about Michigan”.
Whitmer notes her mother passed away from the same kind of brain tumor Beau Biden had. pic.twitter.com/d8avKBPHa8
— Allie Raffa (@AllieRaffa) March 9, 2020
A current employee of Cherry Health, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Breitbart News the visit was hastily organized.
“When we left the office Friday, we didn’t know anybody was coming [on Monday],” the employee said of Biden’s visit.
The employee said the then-communications director for Cherry Health, Tiffany Aldrich, was contacted to host the event, “and she told them no. You can’t hold political rallies here. That’s not allowable in the scope of things we do here as a federally funded health center.”
The employee further alleged “they didn’t like that answer, so they went around” Aldrich to CEO Tasha Blackmon, “and Tasha allowed the rally to take place.”
“As a result of not initially allowing this rally to take place, Tiffany was fired,” the current employee said of Aldrich, who had been with the organization for more than six years.
“She was fired for denying the Biden rally,” the current Cherry Health employee claimed to Breitbart News.
When asked how certain the employee was Aldrich was fired for opposing the political appearance, the employee said: “about as certain as I can be,” adding: “99.9 percent sure.”
The current employee also told Breitbart News staff believed Whitmer was behind arranging the Biden visit.
Aldrich confirmed the current employee’s account, telling Breitbart News when asked about the matter:
Two people from Joe Biden’s local office dropped into Cherry Heath on Friday, March 6 and asked to hold the rally on Monday, March 9. Biden was visiting Michigan because it has been deemed a key state for the upcoming election. Also, March 10 was Super Tuesday, so Biden was coming to Michigan to drum up support. I explained to the people in Biden’s office that Cherry Health is a 501(c)3 Federally Qualified Health Center and therefore cannot participate in political activities.
On Tuesday, March 10 I was terminated because I declined the Biden event. The company asked me to sign a separation agreement which would basically muzzle me and not allow me to talk about what happened. In addition, they offered to let me resign, severance pay, full PTO payout, a letter of recommendation and said they would not fight unemployment, even though I would have resigned.
I refused to sign it because I knew what happened was wrong. In my termination letter it specifically stated that I was being terminated due to how I handled the Biden event. I had never been in trouble at work before, so I don’t know why the standard corrective action process was not followed, I was just terminated on the spot. Now Cherry Health is fighting my unemployment.
The current Cherry Health employee also believes the organization engaging in politics, like the Biden event, is problematic given its tax status.
“Cherry Health is a federally qualified health center, so what that means is we get about 80 percent of our funding from the federal government,” the current employee said.
On Wednesday, Project Veritas published a report claiming CBS News and Cherry Health had concocted a line of cars to appear as though there was demand for coronavirus testing.
“We knew they(CBS) were coming, had no clue we were going to have to like do FAKE PATIENTS” – RN, Cherry Health
— James O'Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) May 6, 2020
“Apparently the news crew wanted more people in the line because they knew it was scheduled,” an individual identified as Nick Ross said in the Project Veritas report.
“We knew they were coming,” an unnamed registered nurse said in the video. “We had no clue that we were going to have to, like, do fake patients.”
Staffers said they “pretended” to test patients for the CBS crew to film.
The news outlet denied any knowledge of the fakery, instead pointing the finger at Cherry Health.
Tasha Blackmon, CEO of the organization, denied any knowledge either.
“Though the Project Veritas report claims the CBS video showing a line of cars was staged; to my knowledge CBS This Morning did not stage any part of their visit, and I did not instruct any of our staff to get in their cars as part of the line of vehicles,” she said, WWMT reported.
They said Cherry Health encouraged employees to watch the CBS News piece when it aired.
“My first thought was why was Cherry Health picked to participate in this CBS News piece,” the current Cherry Health employee said, noting that because there hasn’t been as large of an outbreak of coronavirus in the area as in other parts of the state like the Detroit metro area.
“So it had to have something to do with the fact that Gretchen Whitmer and Tasha are friends with each other,” the employee told Breitbart News. “I’m guessing Whitmer referred them over to Cherry Health.”
The staffer claimed “Tasha was more than eager to please” the governor, and the fake line of cars resulted. The source added other employees concur the Project Veritas story was “100 percent accurate.”
Whitmer had visited the facility just weeks before joining Biden there.
The governor held a roundtable on January 23rd to hear “about the high cost of prescription drugs and other obstacles to accessing health care for low-income patients,” according to the agency’s website.
In what was perhaps a foreshadowing of the CBS News problem, an anonymous former employee wrote on the job site Indeed:
The company culture is terrible. The CEO and COO are particularly critical and micromanaging, The CEO only cares about getting her face on TV and winning awards. She doesn’t care about employees, the operations at the organization or anything other than advancing herself. She will step on anyone to climb the ladder and is the definition of a toxic leader.
The current staffer at Cherry Health also told Breitbart News that the politicization of the organization has had a negative effect on the culture among employees.
“The employees are saddened by this, and outraged by how badly Cherry Health botched this and the leadership botched this and made us look in the community,” the staffer said. “A lot of us there are mission-inspired, so we don’t work there for the money. We work there because we want to serve the community. So it feels personally painful to a lot of employees and employees are mad.”
The employee said their coworkers expect an internal investigation.
When Breitbart News asked Cherry Health CEO Tasha Blackmon about Aldrich’s termination and who is ultimately responsible for the fake testing debacle, she issued the following statement to Breitbart News:
It is our policy not to discuss personnel matters.
As the CEO, I am responsible for our organization.
Blackmon refused to address whether Whitmer referred CBS News and/or the Biden campaign to Cherry Health.