Nguyen Blames Former CalOptima Executives for Agency’s Brain Drain

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Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen said two top executives who left CalOptima early this year deliberately caused the big hole in top leadership at the $1.4-billion health plan for low-income residents by wooing away key employees.

Separately, Nguyen wrote in a letter that CalOptima has completed the investigation of one unidentified member of its board of directors and found no wrongdoing. A different investigation of former board Chairman Ed Kacic apparently is continuing.

Since last year, 15 high-level executives have left CalOptima, most notably former CEO Richard Chambers and former COO Dr. Greg Buchert. Four of the other executives went to work for the companies that hired away Chambers and Buchert. The other nine left for companies and government agencies unrelated to those employing Chambers and Buchert.

Buchert denied trying to harm CalOptima, and Chambers couldn’t be reached for comment.

The high turnover of top leadership at CalOptima comes as health organizations throughout the nation are preparing for the new national health plan to take effect in 2014 and have been increasing staffs and merging with other companies.

The 12 CalOptima departures since January included six at the “executive” or highest level and six others at the “director” or next level. Nguyen insists blame for the brain drain lies with Chambers and Buchert.

“The nine [sic] execs that have left CO, the majority of them have been recruited by the former CEO and COO,” Nguyen said during the Aug. 14 Board of Supervisors meeting. “They’re all working for Molina Health Plan or the HMS [sic] plan. … Obviously we can’t control people leaving, but it’s an intention. Actually it’s — quite frankly I think it’s unfortunate these individuals are making such actions, so please do know that the facts are there. These individuals are intentionally trying to damage CalOptima.”

Buchert, who left to work for Health Management Associates (HMA) in January, said he was “offended” by Nguyen’s comments.

Two former CalOptima top or middle management executives have gone to HMA since Buchert began working there.

“I made a personal decision to find other ways to serve vulnerable individuals when it became apparent that CalOptima in the future would operate differently from its past,” Buchert said. “It is no surprise to me that many others also left to join other creative, mission-driven organizations.”

Two other former CalOptima executives went to work for Molina Health Care after Chambers left to become president of Molina’s California division.

Last fall Nguyen rewrote the county’s CalOptima ordinance to give more control to providers. Since the ordinance went into effect early this year, she is the only board member in place who also was there a year ago. All others have either resigned or been replaced.

Nguyen also reported in an Aug. 3 letter to Kacic that complaints received last winter involving a board member’s conduct were checked, and “no merit was found that required further investigation.” A CalOptima spokeswoman confirmed Monday that only one investigation remained.

That board member investigation was separate from an anonymous letter that Kacic and others said was factually wrong. It was sent to the CalOptima board, the Board of Supervisors and news organizations last winter.

The anonymous letter accused Kacic of conflict of interest. Supervisors voted to ask the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission and the county grand jury to look into the allegations, but then delayed sending the requests for weeks.

Ultimately the commission declared that the request was outside its jurisdiction. The request arrived at the grand jury too late in the year for the jury to act had it determined there was merit to the accusations. It’s unclear whether the current grand jury is considering the issue.

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

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