Michael P. Engelhard, the acting chief executive officer of CalOptima, Orange County’s $1.4-billion health plan for the poor and disabled, resigned Monday to become CEO of Ventura County’s financially troubled health plan.

Engelhard is the 13th top or midlevel executive to leave CalOptima in recent months for positions in private industry or other government health plans.

Like CalOptima, Ventura County’s Gold Coast Health Plan is a state and federally financed health care system organized and run by the county.

Engelhard said his primary reason for leaving was a “quality of life issue.” He lives in Simi Valley in Ventura County and commutes 150 miles a day.

“The [CalOptima] changes that occurred over the past year made that decision easier,” he said in a telephone interview. Before becoming CalOptima interim CEO in March, he was the organization’s chief financial officer for four years.

It was not immediately known who will replace Engelhard as interim CEO. The CalOptima board has hired a private firm to search for a permanent CEO, but that person isn’t expected to be in place until November.

Supervisor Janet Nguyen, backed by a split Board of Supervisors, has remade the CalOptima board to give providers a stronger voice. With a new board majority that owes its appointments to Nguyen, the supervisor has taken de facto control of the entire agency.

A news release from Gold Coast stated that Engelhard will take on his new post Sept. 1. Engelhard will earn a base salary of $257,500 a year compared with $281,000 from CalOptima.

The Ventura County health plan began operations a year ago and serves about 100,000 low-income, elderly and disabled residents, roughly one-fourth the size of CalOptima’s clientel of more than 400,000 residents.

But within months of the Gold Coast launch, problems developed that included serious errors in processing claims, employee turnover and overall concerns about the health plan’s financial strength, according to the Ventura County Star.

Former Gold Coast CEO Earl Greenia resigned without explanation in March shortly after the state ordered an outside firm, the Berkeley Research Group, to monitor the plan’s operations.

Financial reserves had dropped to almost the state minimum, according to the Star.

After Greenia left, the Ventura County plan hired Tatum, an executive services firm, to provide interim management. The company made dramatic improvements in the operations of Gold Coast, the Star reported.

In May, the newspaper quoted Jane Ogle, a deputy director of the California Department of Health Care Services: “They seem to have plans in place that are moving toward the resolution of issues rapidly. We’ve seen a sea change there.”

The financial report by the outside monitor is supposed to be released this month or early next month.

Robert Gonzalez, chairman of the Ventura County Medi-Cal Managed Care Commission, which oversees Gold Coast, said in a news release Monday that Engelhard’s “focus on a balanced approach of employee, member and provider involvement will be a tremendous addition to our organization and a good fit for our community.“

“Today’s a great day,” said Gonzalez. “We’re thrilled to have an experienced health plan professional lead the next era of growth here at Gold Coast Health Plan.”


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