A $6.4 million proposed county contract to provide unidentified doctors to the Health Care Agency Tuesday drew intense fire from union leaders, who protested what they see as a continued lack of transparency on county contracting.
County supervisors staunchly defended their contracting efforts, and the contract, saying union officials are misrepresenting the issue.
The contract for medical, dental, behavioral health and other providers was up for a vote by county supervisors on Tuesday. But none of the vendors are listed in the staff report or attachments, including on the proposed contract itself.
Supervisors ended up voting 4-0 at their meeting to approve the master contract. Supervisor Todd Spitzer was absent.
Before the vote, union leader Jennifer Muir told supervisors the lack of information about the contractors speaks to the need for greater transparency for county contracts with private entities.
“This just isn’t a whole lot of information,” said Muir, assistant general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
“It’s a blank check.”
Unions have been leading calls for more openness around private contracts, in light of a recent ordinance opening up public-sector negotiations and a grand jury's call for an ethics commission in Orange County.
A recent grand jury took issue with the county's private contracting.
Meanwhile, county supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson said there isn’t anything the supervisors know that isn’t included in the staff report.
“If no one knows it, it’s not a transparency issue,” said Nelson.
Muir responded that supervisors were voting on something they don’t fully know about, and that a grand jury’s recent call for an Orange County ethics commission is something taxpayers should be demanding.
Nelson replied with an example.
If he gives his son $20 to buy burgers, Nelson said, “I don’t know which place he’s going to go, and I don’t care.”
County health chief Mark Refowitz told the board that the master contract enables officials to fill in gaps when county doctors aren't available.
After the master contract is approved by the board, he said, the providers are chosen on an as-needed basis throughout the next year.
They need to be licensed doctors, and their medical licenses are vetted, he added.
A federal agreement requires that any medical providers hired by the county Health Care Agency go through a screening process, have their licenses checked and undergo compliance training before they see patients.
Supervisor John Moorlach asked if the agency's managers have a list of names for the vendors.
HCA staff responded that the list is often changing and that the provider population is relatively small.
“It’s really an on-call list,” said Janet Nguyen.
“Personally it’s actually quite offensive to me to continue to make the claim that…somehow we know something more than the public when we don’t,” said Nguyen.
Nelson wondered if the identity of vendors and hours worked would be made public.
“Anyone who wants to know is welcome to know?” Nelson asked Refowitz.
“Correct,” the health director replied.
Sine Monday afternoon, Voice of OC has been asking the Health Care Agency for the names of the medical providers who have been chosen over the last year under the current contract.
Additionally, the news agency has asked how the agency ultimately chooses the vendors.
The information will be made available Wednesday, according to agency spokeswoman Deanne Thompson.