By: Tracy Wood, the Voice of OC
Behind-the-scenes politics at CalOptima, Orange County’s $1.5 billion health plan for low income and disabled residents, took a mysterious turn in late March with delivery of a $90,391 cashiers check, but the sender refused to say who supplied the money.
A cover letter from Richard Afable, CEO of the recently formed Covenant Health Network, which accompanied the cashiers check, indicated the money was from multiple prominent county health and government organizations that once formed a group to create health programs to help the poor. But he wouldn’t say who donated and influential members of the group denied pitching in.
It turns out, according to what Afable told former CalOptima Chairman Ed Kacic, the contributions may have come solely from Afable’s hospital group, an affiliation of St. Joseph Health and Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian.
“Rick told me all the money came from St. Joe’s and Hoag,” Kacic said. “He said no other entity put money in.”
The mysterious check stems from an accusation made last year by the CalOptima board that two of its former chairmen — Kacic and Michael Stephens — misused CalOptima resources.
In September, the board demanded about $90,000 for what Janet Nguyen, who is both a county supervisor and member of the CalOptima board, told the Orange County Register is compensation for the use of “staff time or resources without the explicit authority of the board.”
Kacic, president of the Irvine Health Foundation, and Stephens, who is a former Hoag CEO, have steadfastly denied misusing any CalOptima resources.
The demand by the board, which originated with an anonymous complaint, and prior attacks aimed at Kacic’s reputation were “all about taking over CalOptima,” including tactics intended to be “personal,” said Kacic.
He said he didn’t believe Afable, was part of the earlier attacks and didn’t intend for his payment to make Kacic and Stephens look bad, although it had that effect because it appeared by give legitimacy to the CalOptima board’s demands.
At the time of the demand last September, former CalOptima CEO Richard Chambers said he authorized the staff work and resources as part of an effort by an organization known as the Managed System of Care that ultimately brought CalOptima $12.4 million in intergovernmental transfer funds. No board approval was needed for the work, he said.
A spokesman for Afable said last week he would have no comment.
Why Afable sent the cashiers check still isn’t clear. In his cover letter, he said the check was sent because CalOptima was “deserving of reimbursement for contributed services.”
But he sent the check in spite of a grand jury finding that, rather than an actual debt, CalOptima’s attempt last fall to collect the money from Kacic and Stephens had “all the earmarks of retribution.”
And regardless of why the check was sent, the secrecy surrounding it and the source of the money have raised ethical concerns among good government experts.
“It’s bizarre,” said Bob Stern, a longtime California political ethics expert. “The question is really, what are they hiding and what was the point of doing it (the cashiers check) this way?”
Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, echoed Stern.
Nadler, the former mayor of Santa Clara who has been providing expertise on ethical issues for a decade, said when dealing with public agencies “the most important thing is transparency.”
Source: Voice of OC