Orange County Health Care Agency director to leave position as coronavirus spreads in county

Richard Sanchez
A workers tests for the coronavirus at the Story Stack Orange County Health Care Agency in early March.
(Edward Mertz / OC Health Care Agency)

As the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 tightens its grip on Orange County, a change of leadership is underway at the county’s healthcare agency and its medical service provider for the poor.

The county announced this week that Richard Sanchez will be departing his role as director of the Orange County Health Care Agency for the position of interim chief executive at CalOptima, the county’s largest health insurer, providing coverage and programs for low-income earners and people with disabilities.

He will replace Michael Schrader, who will vacate his position on May 3 and head to a similar one at a sister health plan.

The HCA has been on the frontlines of the local battle to stop the spread of the coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic.

Richard Sanchez is leaving his role as director of the Orange County Health Care Agency to serve as interim chief executive of CalOptima.
Richard Sanchez is leaving his role as director of the Orange County Health Care Agency to serve as interim chief executive of CalOptima.
(Courtesy of CalOptima )

As of Wednesday, there were 187 cases of the virus in Orange County. The county’s first death from the virus was announced Tuesday.

A county spokesperson said Tuesday that Sanchez was unavailable for a phone interview. He briefly addressed the issue at the county Board of Supervisors meeting that morning.

“I feel that, is it an opportune time?” Sanchez said. “Maybe not. But I think we have the leadership in the Health Care Agency to follow through on all the directives.”

County chief executive Frank Kim said at the meeting that he will be appointing an interim director shortly.

“This appointment that Richard accepted happened very quickly, and it wasn’t something that could have been planned,” Kim said. “Obviously, we are responding. Very shortly, I will name an interim director, but what I have done is make sure all the operational chiefs at HCA are working at full capacity.”

Sanchez first addressed his departure from the HCA in a Facebook post to his staff on Monday.

“After 15 years with the OC Health Care Agency and 36 years in public health care administration, I’m excited about this next stage in my career,” Sanchez wrote. “That said, I understand how any more change in this time of uncertainly [sic] may cause you feelings of concern.

Michael Schrader
Michael Schrader is leaving his position as chief executive of CalOptima.
(Courtesy of CalOptima)

“Know that I’ll be just a phone call away and I have unwavering confidence in the executive leadership team we have at the HCA, made stronger by all of you. They have been working around the clock to prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that has been impacting our workforce, our families and our community; and HCA is now one piece of a much broader County of Orange incident command structure to mitigate impacts. We’re all in this together — and we’ll get through it together. I’ll just be seated in a different chair.”

CalOptima spokeswoman Bridget Kelly said there isn’t yet a date set for when Sanchez will start his new position.

Despite calls to several public information officers with the county, nobody in leadership roles with the HCA could be reached for comment.

Schrader spent more than seven years leading CalOptima, expanding its membership and starting special programs such as the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) and OneCare Connect — which both help the elderly. But he also faced backlash for moving slowly on using tens of millions of dollars that has been earmarked for programs for the homeless.

Schrader could not be reached for comment.

“The Board sincerely thanks Michael Schrader for his strategic leadership and dedicated commitment to CalOptima members and our providers,” Paul Yost, chairman of the CalOptima Board of Directors, said in a news release."During his tenure, the agency has proudly been a top-rated Medi-Cal plan in California for six years running. We wish him tremendous success in his future endeavors.”

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