CalOptima Hires New Top Doctor

CalOptima CEO Michael Schrader announced Thursday that he has found a replacement for one of the high-level officials who left last year in the wake of Supervisor Janet Nguyen's effort to restructure the agency's board of directors.

Dr. Richard Helmer, chief medical officer for the Central California Alliance for Health, will take over the same position at CalOptima, the county's health plan for more than 400,000 poor and disabled people.

The Alliance for Health was established in 2007 and serves 210,000 residents of Santa Cruz, Monterey and Merced counties. Its structure is very similar to CalOptima's.

Before joining the Alliance for Health, Helmer worked for other health organizations in Southern California, including serving as president of Laguna Beach-based Pacific Healthcare Group, an interim medical management firm.

He also is a quality surveyor for the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), a nonprofit that rates the quality of medical care in an attempt to raise standards nationally.

In September, CalOptima announced it completed a rigorous, three-year evaluation and now had NCQA accreditation.

It’s score of 87.01 placed it “at the top of the list among California Medi-Cal plans and in the top six Medi-Cal plans in the nation,” according to the CalOptima news release.

Also Thursday, the CalOptima board decided to delay drafting its response to a harshly critical report by the county grand jury until after the county Board of Supervisors writes its reply.

Supervisors are scheduled to reply at the end of this month. Both CalOptima and the supervisors are required to respond by April 25.

The grand jury report titled “CalOptima Burns While Majority of Supervisors Fiddle” severely criticizes the supervisors for allowing Supervisor Janet Nguyen to restructure the $1.5-billion state and federally funded agency’s board and for not stepping in as 16 top managers left for jobs in private industry or other government agencies outside Orange County.

A “CalOptima board member [Nguyen] and two CalOptima [staff] lawyers have been disruptive and created an atmosphere that according to current and former CalOptima employees is ‘unsafe for senior executives,’ ” the report states.

The grand jury recommended that more than one supervisor be assigned to the 11-member CalOptima board of directors, which now has one vacancy and includes seven unpaid volunteers. Two county department heads and Nguyen are required to serve on the board as part of their jobs.

A majority of the five supervisors “failed to take an active role in preserving [CalOptima] an entity playing a vital role in the healthcare needs of the County’s young, disabled, low income and senior residents,” the report conluded.

It also blamed a majority of the supervisors for allowing the top CalOptima executives to leave. In addition to the chief medical officer, the health plan lost its CEO, chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

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

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