NEWPORT NEWS — The first contract Soma Health Partners LLC ever signed was with Riverside Health System.
During its negotiations with Riverside over an exclusive contract to provide anesthesiology services at the Newport News hospital, Texas-based Soma claimed it had "more than 25 years experience" providing anesthesiology management services and identified itself under the banner of another Texas company called Compass Healthcare Partners.
But Compass told the Daily Press that it has never been affiliated with Soma, and public records show Soma didn't officially exist as a registered company until Feb. 1, 2010.
"Soma is not affiliated in any way, shape or form with (Compass) and they never have been," said Jim Duvall, an attorney for San Marcos, Texas-based Compass, a 6-year-old firm that has contracts to provide anesthesiology services at hospitals in three states.
Among Compass' current and former customers are hospitals and medical centers in Texas and New Mexico with which Soma claimed to have relationships. Soma provided the names of those facilities to Riverside in a list of references.
None of those hospitals had ever done business with Soma.
Michael Candelario, Soma's vice president of operations, did not return several calls from the Daily Press on Friday.
The startup anesthesia-management company on April 7 took over the contract to provide anesthesiology services at Riverside.
The move set off a public relations firestorm, sparking criticism from doctors, patients and others in the health care community, who raised questions about the company and its credentials.
Just more than a week later, Riverside reversed course, voiding the contract with Soma and transferring the work to the in-house Riverside Medical Group.
The hospital characterized the decision to sever ties with Soma as a mutual decision between the company and Riverside, and said Soma provided the services it agreed to under terms of the contract.
Dr. Patrick Parcells, Riverside's administrator, said Friday that he had never heard of Soma until the hospital's negotiations with the company reached the contract stage.
"The company I contacted originally was Compass. All of our initial dealings and discussions were all under the aegis of Compass. All the brochures and paperwork said Compass. When we requested references, they were all again with Compass," Parcells said.
Riverside called seven references provided by Compass that included chief officers of medical centers, surgeons and other managers.
"They said (Compass) provided great services. They provided great quality physicians," Parcells said.
After Riverside performed its reference checks, due diligence and other research and felt comfortable moving forward on a contract, the Compass team Riverside had been negotiating with requested the paperwork to be signed under Soma Health Partners, Parcells said.
When Riverside inquired, Soma told hospital officials that Soma was a division of Compass that handled anesthesiology services, Parcells said.
He said he did not contact Compass to confirm its relationship with Soma because he'd been negotiating with the same group of people since his first contact with Compass.
"The understanding was that Soma was part of Compass, and since we were dealing with the same group of six or seven people all along, I'm not sure there was any reason for us to (be concerned)," Parcells said. "There weren't any red flags or suspicions on the fact they wanted to contract under a different name."
Soma's lead agent in the negotiations was Michael Candelario, the 27-year-old son of Compass founder and Chief Executive Alexander Candelario. Alexander Candelario referred all questions to Duvall, the Compass attorney, who declined to comment on the situation beyond saying Compass and Soma are not affiliated.
It wasn't until Friday, the day the hospital announced it was parting ways with Soma, that Riverside acknowledged Soma was not an affiliate of Compass.
Daily Press reporter Veronica Chufo contributed to this story.
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The story so far Riverside Regional Medical Center ended a longstanding relationship with Newport News-based Virginia Anesthesia and Perioperative Care Specialists when the firm's contract ended April 7. The new company Riverside contracted with, Soma Health Partners LLC , has come under fire since Virginia Anesthesia president Paul Rein aired concerns about it in a YouTube video. Riverside cut ties with the new company Friday, and Riverside Medical Group took over management.