After months of continuances, a controversial proposal to add a second hospital industry representative to the CalOptima board of directors has been deleted from the county Board of Supervisors’ agenda.
It is unclear why Health Care Agency Director Mark Refowitz asked for the item to be taken off the agenda — an agency spokeswoman couldn’t get an answer by close of business on Monday.
But Refowitz’s request came two days after two nurses who care for CalOptima patients spoke at the Dec. 8 Supervisors’ meeting, urging them not to appoint either of the nominated candidates.
The seat, reserved for a member of the public, has been vacant since August, 2014, when Steve Knoblock, a realtor and former aide to Supervisor Lawrence Schmidt, resigned.
County officials said they tried twice last fall to recruit a replacement, but no one applied. They tried again in June and got five applications for the opening.
Mary E. Oberschlake, a nurse for 17 years at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, who provides direct care for CalOptima patients, urged the Supervisors not to appoint “another health care corporate representative” to the CalOptima board. Instead, she said, the Supervisors should “expand the search process to find a patient, not an industry representative.”
The board of CalOptima, the county’s $3 billion health plan for low income and disabled residents, already includes a patient and seats are set aside for specific industry and other representatives. The board also includes Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Andrew Do. They, along with three county workers, chose the two candidates with hospital ties as finalists for the “public” seat.
One of the candidates was Ronald R. DiLuigi, who retired in June after 17 years as a lobbyist for St. Joseph Health, which operates 16 hospitals including four in Orange County: St. Joseph, St. Jude, Mission and Hoag. Nurses at St. Joseph’s currently are trying to join a labor union, the California Nurses Association AFL-CIO.
DiLuigi also spent 27 years as an executive with the county’s Health Care Agency before becoming a lobbyist.
The other candidate was Dana Point City Councilman Scott Schoeffel, a hospital lawyer and campaign donor to Bartlett. He gave Bartlett $1,900 for her supervisor campaign, the maximum allowed.
Bartlett and Schoeffel served together on the Dana Point City Council before Bartlett was elected a supervisor.
Until April, Schoeffel was a vice president and general legal counsel for Santa Ana-based Integrated Healthcare Holdings Inc. (IHHI), operator of four Orange County hospitals.
IHHI has been the subject of years of financial controversy and most recently lost a $5.7 million civil suit in which the firm’s former CEO, Bruce Mogel, was accused of planting a loaded gun and drugs in the car of Dr. Michael W. Fitzgibbons, who had bested IHHI in a previous case.
In the past, IHHI also has been a substantial contributor to county political campaigns.
After leaving IHHI in April, Schoeffel became a special counsel to the Irvine law firm Buchalter Nemer, which, according to his resume, specializes in “health care law, with a concentration in matters involving hospitals, managed care and integrated health provider networks.”
Ads for the opening were printed in the ethnic magazines and newspapers Mahnameh Metro, which serves Orange County’s Iranian community, Nguoi Viet and Viet Bao, for the Vietnamese communities, the Spanish-language Unidos OC and the Orange County Register. The opening also was listed on the web sites of the Health Care Agency and CalOptima.
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