The board for CalOptima, which provides publicly funded health coverage for nearly 900,000 needy Orange County residents, abruptly fired its entire in-house legal team of attorneys and support staff late last week. Some had been with the agency for more than 20 years, according to records.
The agency instead will rely on a contract with Sacramento firm Kennaday Leavitt for legal services.
The board approved a $1 million contract with that firm in November, for two outside attorneys to support CalOptima’s nine-member legal team, whose salaries totaled roughly $1.5 million. The agency said at the time that additional help was needed as demands for legal services increased. CalOptima now says the decision during a closed session meeting Thursday night to fire the in-house team was about “improved efficiency.”
The move comes amid increasing concerns about how the agency is operating under the direction of its board chair, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, with substantial turnover in key positions over the past two years while salary levels for newly created or replacement positions have jumped significantly.
The agency’s chief medical officer, executive director of quality initiatives, communications director and other key staff members all have left in recent months. The last chief executive officer stayed only a year, with an interim CEO in his place. And the salary for that job jumped in September from a minimum of $400,000 to at least $560,000.
Do could not be reached for comment Monday.
A CalOptima spokesperson didn’t respond to a request about these concerns or additional information on the legal team’s departure. She instead emailed a statement that said: “CalOptima has taken action to utilize external legal resources to improve efficiency of the agency in support of its mission and to better serve our members.”
CalOptima is the health care insurer for poor and disabled O.C. residents, a majority who qualify for Medi-Cal coverage. The agency has an annual budget of $3.7 billion and operates under the direction of an eight-member board of directors.