County to vote on Cardinal agreement today

County to vote on Cardinal agreement today
December 14
03:00 2017

Forsyth County commissioners plan to vote today on a performance agreement with the embattled Cardinal Innovations Healthcare.

Cardinal is the largest managed care organization in the state. It oversees mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services for Medicaid enrollees in  20 counties. This includes Forsyth, where it took over CenterPoint Human Services. By state law, counties must fund these services locally. Cardinal also receives federal Medicaid money and state funds.

Late last month, N.C. Health Secretary Mandy Cohen ordered for the state to take over Cardinal’s operations after what she called “serious mismanagement of funds.” This included paying Cardinal CEO Paul Topping $635,000 in salary and bonuses, which is three times the amount allowed by state law. Topping and three other executives were let go with $3.8 million in severance pay.  Topping’s severance package was $1.7 million by itself. Because of this, Cardinal’s Board of Directors has been dismissed.

County Commissioner Vice Chair Don Martin was appointed last week by the commissioners to the committee that will pick the Forsyth County representative for the new Cardinal Board.

“I think the actions of the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Cohen have been positive,” said Martin.

The annual performance agreement that commissioners will vote on today says the county will fund behavioral health services, while Cardinal agrees to provide those services. As of last week, the agreement has Cardinal providing the county with monthly invoices, quarterly progress reports on service utilization and other data related to the use of county funds. Any unspent county money will be retained by the county for future behavioral health needs. Cardinal also agrees to provide a variety of services to the county, such as training for county Human Services staff, providing emergency care reviews within 48 hours for certain children receiving Child Welfare services, and providing client-specific clinical staffing and technical assistance to Social Services.

Cardinal Senior Community Executive Ronda Outlaw assured commissioners in a briefing late last month that the state only had an issue with some of the organization’s leaders and not with its services, which she said are not adversely affected by the temporary state takeover.

“The issues that have been raised are to governance and specific individuals and are not related to the workforce for all of Cardinal Innovations; they are not related to providers or services or the work that is being done locally in our communities,” she said.

Commissioner Everette Witherspoon told Outlaw he thought she was “doing a great job.” But he also spent the last two briefing sessions saying he wished Cardinal hadn’t merged with Counterpoint. He said he didn’t believe it had improved mental health services in the county.

“We know what’s best for the people in Forsyth County – the people suffering with mental health illnesses – not somebody in Charlotte riding around on a private jet,” said Witherspoon.

Martin said Counterpoint had little choice but to merge with another organization because of directives from the state to reduce the number of managed care organizations. He said there were operational cost savings from the merger.

Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt said she didn’t support the executive salaries, but liked that the county now has control over what services its funding goes to. She said that Cardinal has improved mental health services in the county.   

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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