CalOptima abruptly fires its entire legal team over concerns about agency direction – Orange County Register

The board of directors for CalOptima, which provides publicly funded health insurance to nearly 900,000 impoverished Orange County residents, abruptly laid off its entire team of attorneys and in-home support staff over the weekend. before. According to the filing, some have worked with the agency for more than 20 years.

Instead, the agency will rely on a contract with the Sacramento firm Kennaday Leavitt for legal services.

The board of directors approved a $1 million contract with that company in November for two outside attorneys to assist CalOptima’s nine-member legal team, who collectively earn roughly $1. ,5 million dollars. The agency said at the time that more help was needed as demand for legal services grew. CalOptima now says the decision in Thursday night’s caucus to fire the internal team was about “improved efficiency.”

The move comes amid growing concern about how the agency is operating under the direction of the chairman of the board, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, with a significant change in positions. key positions in the past two years while wages for newly created or replaced positions have increased significantly.

The agency’s chief medical officer, quality initiatives executive, communications director and other key staff have all left in recent months. The CEO ended up staying only a year, with a Interim CEO In his place. And wages for that job spiked in September from a minimum of $400,000 to at least $560,000.

Could not be reached for comment on Monday.

A CalOptima spokesperson did not respond to a request for these concerns or additional information about the legal team’s departure. Instead, she sent out an email notice that read: “CalOptima has taken action to utilize outside legal resources to improve the agency’s effectiveness in support of its mission and to serve our members better.”

CalOptima is the health insurance company that provides health care to poor and disabled OC residents, most of whom qualify for Medi-Cal coverage. The agency has an annual budget of $3.7 billion and operates under an eight-member board of directors.

The Board of Directors began discussing the idea of ​​contracting for outside legal services at the end of 2020. Do led a special committee set up on December 3, 2020, to consider it. get help to “address the substantial and growing need for legal services”.

At its September 2 meeting, the eight-member panel unanimously voted to request proposals from outside law firms to “enhance and integrate with, the legal services currently offered provided by attorneys hired and contracted by the agency,” according to a board report.

Two months later, at its November 4 meeting, the board approved the use of up to $1.05 million in reserves to sign a one-year contract with Kennaday Leavitt, whose attorneys specialize in care law. health care, for general counsel to “work with in-house attorneys”. The contract includes two one-year extension options and includes two full-time attorneys with a salary of $70,000 per month plus up to $210,000 in business expenses.

When the request for proposal was made, it included a requirement that the company have its main office in the Southern California area. But that request was dropped when the committee returned to the board with an offer to sign Kennaday Leavitt, with veteran healthcare attorney James Novello at the helm.

At its December 20 meeting, the board of directors met behind closed doors to discuss Kennaday Leavitt’s performance. Then, on Thursday, February 3, the program listed a closed session to discuss “disciplinary / dismissal / dismissal of public servants”. After that meeting, a secretary reported that the board had “approved the caucus item.” The Registry knows that all seven in-house attorneys plus one support attorney and office staff have been let go.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who said he recently transitioned from an alternate to a full board member and attended only a few CalOptima meetings, said the legal staff change process has begun. early before his term. But he said the current interim CEO, Michael Hunn, had looked at the situation “and concluded it wasn’t very productive,” said Chaffee, so Hunn asked the board to “make an action.” organizational change” for private use of the new external consultant.

Chaffee said fired legal staff will receive a severance package according to agency policy, but he did not have details on the amount. As for using a contracting firm instead of in-house staff for legal services, he said, “I think there is a cost saving; Time will tell exactly how much.”

In recent years, CalOptima has weathered criticism. In 2013, the district The grand jury raised the flag about a wave of CalOptima employee departures and problems with management.

The agency seems to have corrected the mistake, less controversially, for several years. But since Do took the reins of the agency, some local health officials have begun to criticize the recent changes.

In December, a former chair of CalOptima’s board raised concerns with Do’s recent appointment of Deputy Chief of Staff to a newly created position at the agency, pointing out that staff This employee lacks experience in the healthcare industry and has a starting salary of $282,000, Voice of OC report.

Last month, the Southern California Hospital Association expressed disappointment when a majority of the OC Board of Supervisors ignored their recommendation to appoint someone to an empty seat on the CalOptima board, choosing someone from Los County. Angeles instead of someone with local experience, follow the other Narrative voice OC. CalOptima abruptly fires its entire legal team over concerns about agency direction – Orange County Register

Huynh Nguyen

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