Los Angeles County supervisors reacted with anger Friday to revelations that the firm they hired to restore accountability and quality medical care at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center may have inflated its own expenses by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“This is ridiculous,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “For a company that we have brought in to oversee and manage a failing hospital ... for them to be contemptuous of the taxpaying public in this way, it turns my stomach.”
A Times review of eight months of Navigant Consulting Inc.'s expense reports and other records found that the firm double-billed for plane tickets and charged the county for first-class travel and trips unrelated to the public hospital south of Watts.
The head of the county Department of Health Services said Thursday that his agency planned to reject more than $300,000 of the firm’s $1.3 million in submitted expenses. The county has paid only $65,000 of the firm’s expenses thus far. Navigant can appeal.
But Supervisor Mike Antonovich said Friday that the county should go a step further and withhold all payments to Navigant until county auditors have reviewed all the firm’s expenses and confirmed whether it has provided the services it billed for. The consulting firm is under a $15-million, yearlong contract with the county to overhaul King/Drew, which serves a mostly poor and minority community.
In a motion he intends to introduce at Tuesday’s board meeting, Antonovich also says county attorneys should work with the auditor and health department to determine whether “Navigant has engaged in any illegal activities in its billings to the county and to forward any identified problems to the district attorney for investigation.”
Hank Wells, a Navigant managing director, did not return calls Friday seeking comment. In an earlier interview, he conceded that the county had been wrongly billed, blaming his firm’s accounting department and the county’s insistence on unwieldy documentation. But he said other disputed charges were not improper.
Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, whose district includes the Willowbrook hospital, said the problems with Navigant’s billings have made her “uneasy” about the firm’s work. She agreed that an audit of the firm’s billings needed to be done.
Navigant’s contract with the county is up at the end of October, and county officials say they may need to keep at least part of the Navigant team on.
Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) said Friday that he could not understand why King/Drew had fallen prey to so many troubles.
“What is it about that environment that makes people think they can exploit it?” asked Ridley-Thomas. “Whether they are doctors or nurses or accountants or CEOs, what makes them think that it’s OK to do it there?
“There is a sense of betrayal here,” he said, “I find practically unexplainable.”