Supervisors to Vote on New CalOptima Board Members

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The Orange County Board of Supervisors is set to vote today on candidates to fill four open seats on the newly restructured board of directors of CalOptima, the $1.4-billion health plan for the county’s poor and elderly.

The vote comes as CalOptima is scheduled to begin deliberations Thursday on its 2012-2013 budget. The four who are selected will be volunteers with no compensation or staff.

Nine finalists were selected from a list of 52 applicants. The nine include two campaign contributors to Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who was the driving force behind the board’s reorganization.

A third candidate had a letter of support from a Nguyen donor. The letter was emailed to Nguyen’s sister, Diane, who is a member of her supervisorial staff.

Officials from the county’s Health Care Agency have not yet responded to specific questions on the role Diane Nguyen might have played in the selection process. Acting Health Care Agency Director Mark Refowitz also sits on the CalOptima board.

A fourth candidate, former San Clemente City Councilman Steve Knoblock, a real estate lawyer, longtime Republican activist and former alternate to the Orange County Republican Central Committee, began his career as an aide to former Supervisor Larry Schmidt.

The four who are selected will fill seats designated for representatives of the following groups: currently practicing physicians, health networks or physicians groups that contract with CalOptima, CalOptima participants and members of the general public who do not use the program.

The three candidates for the physician seat are Westminster ophthalmologist Dr. Viet Van Dang, who donated $500 to Nguyen in November, according to her campaign reports.

The other two practicing physician candidates are Dr. Alberto Gedissman, medial director of the pediatric and adolescent obesity program for AltaMed Health Services, and Dr. Mark E. Krugman, a plastic surgeon and medical director of the Orange County Foundation for Medical Care.

The two contenders for the health networks slot are Dr. Samara Palacio Cardenas, a pediatrician who is chairwoman for pediatrics at Anaheim Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Keith Wilson, regional medical director for HealthCare Partners Medical Group.

Among Wilson’s letters of support was one from Monarch HealthCare, written to Nguyen’s sister, Diane, for the candidate selection committee. In 2011, Monarch donated $1,800 to Nguyen, the maximum allowed by the county.

According to public records attached to the supervisors’ agenda, Diane Nguyen also was sent email copies of letters of recommendation for Wilson by Dr. Jacob Sweiden, president of contracted health network, and by Arta Western Medical Group.

Candidates for the public slot are Knoblock and Dr. Janice Frates, professor of health care administration at Cal State Long Beach. Frates is an Orange County resident.

Candidates for the seat representing CalOptima users are Ellen Anh, executive director of the Buena Park nonprofit Korean Community Services, and Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers.

Anh has donated a total of $1,350 to Nguyen’s campaign. Becerra’s recommendations included a letter of support from AltaMed, which also employs Gedissman.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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