Controversial OC Hospital Lobbyist Resigns

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Julie Puentes, the hospital lobbyist who played a pivotal role in changes to the CalOptima board of directors that contributed to its administrative turmoil, has resigned from her job with the Hospital Association of Southern California.

Neither she nor association officials responded to a request to discuss why she was leaving after nine years or where she was going.

Puentes, 62, did provide Voice of OC a copy of the Oct. 13 resignation letter she sent to her boss, Marty Gallegos, saying she was resigning “with mixed emotions” effective Jan. 1.

Her letter indicates she will retain some type of involvement with HASC, however.

“While I will be undertaking special projects in my core areas of strength and interest and look forward to that, I also recognize that I will be leaving, at least in my current capacity, the organization that represents the highpoint of a great career – and an organization for which I genuinely have the highest regard,” she wrote.

In an Oct. 14 email to Orange County hospitals that belong to the trade association, also known as HASC, Gallegos wrote: “It is with a heavy heart that I share with all of you the news of Julie Puentes’ decision to leave HASC.”

A copy of Gallegos’ email was provided by HASC to Voice of OC. The email also said the association was beginning an immediate search for Puentes’ replacement.

HASC Role in Changing CalOptima Directors

Last year, a searing grand jury report titled CalOptima Burns While a Majority of Supervisors Fiddle said HASC lobbyists “helped rewrite” the 2011 ordinance initiated by Supervisor Janet Nguyen to completely remake the CalOptima board of directors giving medical providers control and hospitals a permanent seat.

CalOptima is the county’s health plan for residents who are poor, elderly or disabled and currently serves about 650,000 members, roughly half of them children. It’s budget this year is about $3 billion, making it the largest county agency.

Nguyen’s changes created a whole new board of directors with no health plan management experience just as health organizations nationwide were making major program adjustments and expanding dramatically to prepare for the beginning of ObamaCare. But CalOptima, which lost more than a dozen top executives during the turmoil, failed to gear up well, according to recent federal and state audits.

Following her takeover of CalOptima, Nguyen, a Republican who won the central Orange County 34th state Senate district seat in this month’s election, raised more than $100,000 from the medical industry, according to campaign reports. Before she joined the CalOptima board, she raised about $15,000 from medical providers.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who was appointed to the CalOptima board by the supervisors this year, has publicly said the supervisors will review the make-up of the CalOptima board and determine what changes need to be made. He told a Sept. 4 meeting of the CalOptima board “is this the ideal composition of this board? I don’t know the answer.”

Following Nguyen’s realignment of the CalOptima board of directors, Puentes helped with Nguyen’s fundraising.

In its 2013 report, the grand jury referred to a $250-per-person fundraiser for Nguyen that was held in February 2012 at the home of Dan Brothman, the former CEO Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.

A copy of the fundraiser invitation provided to Voice of OC stated RSVPs should be directed to a phone number that also is listed as the Orange County contact for the Hospital Association of Southern California, which represents 26 hospitals in the county.

At the time, Puentes said “I told Dan Brothman that we would be happy to help him with that.”

Nguyen blasted the 2013 Grand Jury for its report, claiming it was untrue that HASC lobbyists helped write the ordinance that remade the CalOptima board.

“This is outright wrong,” Nguyen told a news conference at the time. “The lobbyists did not help to write the amendment that changed the composition of the CalOptima board.”

But her assertions were countered at the time by former CalOptima board Chairman Ed Kacic who said that shortly before the proposed ordinance went to the supervisors for a vote on Oct. 4, 2011, HASC lobbyists Puentes and her then-boss, Jim Lott, told him and CalOptima board Vice Chairman Jim McAleer “in a face-to-face meeting” that the “draft had considerable input from HASC.”

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

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