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Ventura County health panel hears allegation of 'racist' comment

March 16, 2012 |  1:03 pm

A Ventura County health panel that administers $300 million in Medi-Cal billings, already reeling from a state-ordered review of claims and the resignation of its chief executive, faced another setback this week over allegations that a top administrator made racist comments.

Members of the Medi-Cal Managed Care Commission promised a speedy investigation into an explosive new claim by one of its panel members, Roberto Juarez, that a top-level Medi-Cal administrator had used "racist" language to describe Latinos.

Juarez, who operates a network of clinics largely serving poor Latinos, didn't specify the comments during Wednesday's special meeting. But afterwards, he told reporters that a high-level Medi-Cal administrator made the remark during contract negotiations that went sour.

"They said, 'There's no ... way we're going to contract with those Mexicans,' " Juarez said, quoting the alleged comment to his employee. "And here we are today, with no contract."

Those actions come a week after two directors at Gold Coast Health Plan were fired, followed two days later by the resignation of chief executive officer Earl Greenia. Gold Coast administers $300 million in Medi-Cal benefits delivered to 100,000 of Ventura County's neediest residents.

The commission oversees Gold Coast Health Plan, launched last year to transition Ventura County Medi-Cal beneficiaries from a fee-for-service insurance to a managed care model. Ventura County is one of several counties switching to an HMO-style system of subsidized healthcare, a move intended to increase efficiency, save dollars and deliver better care.

Gold Coast spokesman Steve Lalich on Thursday said the investigation into the reportedly racist remarks would be conducted by an outside expert in human resources. Gold Coast had no other comment, he said.

At Wednesday's meeting, several commissioners were quick to condemn the alleged remark.

"Comments like that are unacceptable and we will not allow that to happen,'' said Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long, who is also a Medi-Cal commissioner.

During the meeting, the usually fractious Medi-Cal Managed Care Commission voted unanimously to form a subcommittee to find replacements for former Chief Executive Earl Greenia and commission attorney Tin Kin Lee. Both resigned in the past week.

On Thursday, Dr. S.N. Charles Cho was appointed interim chief. Cho, the plan's chief medical officer, was described in a Gold Coast statement as an industry veteran who will keep operations running while the commission finds a permanent chief executive.

In recent months, Gold Coast has been beset with problems. Hospitals and physicians say that claims are being paid late while some employees at the plan's Oxnard headquarters have complained of an intimidating and hostile work environment.

The state Department of Health Care Service last month demanded that an outside monitor be brought in to review claims and operations of the 10-month-old plan. Gold Coast is paying the $450,000 cost of the review.

A day after the panel approved the contract, two administrators, finance officer Aimee Sziklai and human resources director Candice Limousin were fired. Greenia declined to comment on the reasons for their dismissal. A week later, he tendered his own resignation followed by that of Tin Kin Lee, the plan's privately contracted attorney.


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-- Catherine Saillant