Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mendocino County may have created conflict in bid for mental health services

Mental health contract questioned
By Ukiah Daily Journal staff

UPDATED: 06/16/2014 08:12:18 PM PDT

An apparent of a conflict of interest in Mendocino County's process of choosing Ortner Management Group as its contractor to provide adult mental health services has the Mendocino County Grand Jury recommending ethics training for all of the county's senior managers.

The grand jury has released a report, "An Appearance of a Conflict of Interest," after fielding complaints about "perceived conflicts of interest in awarding the Mendocino County contract for the administration of adult mental health services" to Ortner when the county privatized its mental health services in May 2013.

"Certain individuals employed by the county with current and previous associations with Ortner had the opportunity to have undue influence in the awarding of this contract," according to the grand jury report.

The grand jury found "no apparent illegal activity," but did find that "there were sufficient opportunities for these individuals to have used undue influence in the selection process."

According to the report, the HHSA Director Stacy Cryer hired an Ortner employee as a contractor from February 2011 to March 2012, with actual work dates between December 2011 and March 2012. The contractor "had access to patient records ad county Medi-Cal billing information" that "would have been useful for estimating the cost of the request for proposal for administering the billing of adult mental health services." The grand jury's concern was that other bidders didn't have access to that information.

"However, there is no indication that information was used inappropriately," the grand jury states.

Mendocino County Mental Health Director Tom Pinizzotto, who "had a previous business relationship with Ortner Management Group that terminated less than 18 months before," was one of seven county employees who scored and evaluated the request for proposal.

The complaints alleged that Pinizzotto's involvement and the involvement of the consultant in the preparation and scoring of the request for proposal gave Ortner an unfair advantage, and that the release of the request for proposal was put off until Ortner was ready to respond.

"There is an appearance of impropriety in the process of bidding and awarding the contract to Ortner Management Group because of the previous relationship of the mental health director with Ortner Management Group," according to the grand jury report. "There is no evidence that impropriety occurred."

The grand jury recommends that the county change its ethics policies "to include time limitations on when county employees must recuse themselves from decisions regarding previous employers," and that it train employees, with a "high priority for all county senior managers," on ethics policies.

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