In response to a scathing report about a lack of government oversight and improper payments to taxpayer-funded rehabilitation clinics, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to review its authority over such contracts and its ability to end payments to clinics that are breaking the law.
Additionally, the board voted to require the development of safeguards to insure that parolees, troubled youths and parents who are dealing with alcohol or substance abuse are not referred to clinics whose contracts have been suspended because of fraud.
"We want to make sure we don't trip over our own feet here," said board chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas during Tuesday's meeting.
The move was in response to a report by CNN and the Center for Investigative Reporting in late July that found rampant fraud in California's substance-abuse programs for the poor. Such programs receive federal and state money, and the contracts are awarded through the counties.
Many of the allegations of fraud in the report, such as billing for nonexistent clients, occurred in Los Angeles County, the state's largest. In the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, the county contracted with 143 firms for rehabilitation, serving 30,000 people at a cost of $99.5 million.
In response to the report, state officials launched a review and stopped payments to 38 firms operating 108 clinics.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky authored the motion approved Tuesday, which would require county attorneys and auditors to report back in 30 days about the county's oversight authority and ability to end contracts with clinics.
The motion also calls for an audit of the Drug Medi-Cal program that provides services to the county's poor, and the development of a protocol to determine the severity of problems in such clinics, with a requirement that top county leaders be notified about the most troubled.
Yaroslavsky said the role of the county and the state in the auditing process is unclear, with some in the county health department believing that the county did not have an oversight role but rather served as a conduit for the funding.
"Someone in the bowels of the bureaucracy made certain assumptions and decisions — I'm not saying they weren't made in good faith. The decisions made apparently suggested they did not have the authority to cut bad contractors loose," he said in an interview last week. "I believe we have authority we haven't used to audit the contractors, and if we find they're not operating ethically and legally, we should have the authority to cut them loose, as we do other contractors in the county."