Cardinal

Alex Olgin / WFAE

Two men in very different situations were just a few blocks from each other Monday talking about the same organization – Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. The former CEO who was pushed out during a state takeover of the behavioral health care organization late last year, was arguing in court that takeover was illegal. Last weekend, the state returned control of Cardinal to a new board of directors and CEO. That man is leading the organization that serves 20 counties through a culture change. One that he says will be transparent and put patients first.

Alex Olgin / WFAE

The problems that resulted in the state taking over Charlotte-based Cardinal Innovations Healthcare can be boiled down to one word: Excessive.

Excessive executive pay, excessive parties, excessive resort retreats. Some of it violated state law – and none of it looked good for a taxpayer-funded organization that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in 20 counties.

And when it comes to services, some the families that depend on Cardinal accuse it of penny-pinching. 

Alex Olgin / WFAE News

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare has a new board of directors. It includes a few who were on the previous board. State officials fired that board when it took over the behavioral health care organization last month, believing them to be a big part of Cardinal’s problem. After all, it was the board that approved the excessive CEO pay and severance packages.    

Alex Olgin / WFAE News

Claims of a vindictive board of directors, more loyal to a CEO than the company they watch over.

A CEO who's salary far exceeds his peers.

Throw in expensive staff parties and retreats and you'd have a shareholder scandal in publicly traded company.

But when all of this happens and is paid for with tax dollars, you have something else entirely. The story of Cardinal Innovations Healthcare.

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare
Mark James / Charlotte Observer

Hoarding $70 million in Medicaid money that should be spent on patients while spending lavishly on CEO pay and luxury board retreats. These are just some of the findings laid out in a state audit of Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. The company says the spending is justified.

Ben Bradford / WFAE

As of today, the Mecklenburg County government no longer oversees mental health, substance abuse, or disability services for the county. MeckLINK—the organization it built to handle those services—closed today, as the larger, outside agency Cardinal Innovations takes over. MeckLINK operated for little over a year, but that tenure spurred fights with state lawmakers for control, cost the county millions of dollars, and contributed to the fall of two top county officials.


Mecklenburg County commissioners voted 7-2 last night to work out an agreement to turn oversight of mental health, substance abuse, and disability care to Cardinal Innovations, less than a year after the county launched its own agency, MeckLINK, at a cost of more than $8 million. The county started MeckLINK because of a state reorganization, and now it has to give it up because of another one.