By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
A Quid for a Quo?
If you really wanted zero coverage on your big Los Angeles news event, you had it during the Democratic National Convention. I don‘t think anyone planned it this way, but Los Angeles County health-department officials almost dodged all coverage of their latest scandal. Which was, in any case, broken by our local City News Service, followed by the Daily News, and left strictly alone by all those other news folks hanging out at the Convention Center.
This latest outrage appears to have ended the county career of the Department of Health Service’s number-two official, Dr. Donald Thomas III, and resulted at least in the reassignment of Dr. Janet Aiso, who headed DHS‘s pharmacy division. Thomas, who has retained an attorney to contest his firing, and Aiso were accused of being somehow involved in an imbroglio that ended up supplying over $1 million worth of federally provided prescription drugs to two private clinics without the requisite vote by the Board of Supervisors.
One of these clinics, the Los Angeles--based John Wesley Community Health organization, has reimbursed the county. The other, Metro South Provider Network of Inglewood, declared bankruptcy in May and never paid back $900,000 owed. MSPN was run by Dr. Jeffrie Miller, who reportedly remains on the county payroll as director of graduate and medical education at King-Drew Medical Center.
According to DHS spokesman John Wallace, an in-house investigation of the matter is to be concluded next month. But right now, this scandal seems to stem from the too-common practice of allowing county-employed doctors to create on-the-side businesses that then contract with their own public employers. A previous case reported here was that of the now-ended clinical operations of former King-Drew eminence Dr. Ludlow B. Creary, presently in retirement. According to state records, Creary had other businesses that also contracted with the county.
At the same time, we have an unresolved union pay dispute that could -- conceivably -- take about 800 county doctors out on strike. The key disagreement is that the newly unionized doctors want to continue to claim their megaflex benefits, by which nonorganized county employees are allowed to purchase their own insurance plans and even roll unused benefit cash into their pensions. The county insists that unionized employees don’t get this package, and that has indeed been the past practice -- although Union of American Physicians and Dentists regional administrator Joe Bader insists that megaflex doesn‘t cost the county any more than conventional benefit plans would.
So here’s a possible compromise: Give the county doctors their megaflex, with the return agreement that they be forbidden to continue their highly problematic practice of doing business on the side with their county employers. Would this please everyone? Probably not. But as scandal follows scandal, putting up a contracting firewall in the DHS seems like an increasingly good idea.