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NC Counties Send Letter To DHHS Accusing Cardinal Innovations Of Poor Service

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare
Mark Hames
The Charlotte Observer

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare has until Nov. 9 to respond to accusations of poor service from leaders in Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties.

In an Oct. 23 letter to North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services and Cardinal's Chief Executive Officer, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio and Forsyth County Manager J. Dudley Watts criticized the company, which coordinates behavioral health care for the counties’ Medicaid recipients.

In North Carolina, Medicaid covers children, the disabled and elderly who are poor. It also covers parents earning less than 42% of the federal poverty level — or $5,208 per year for one adult.

“Despite our efforts to collaborate with Cardinal Innovations, we continue to experience ongoing challenges,” Diorio and Watts wrote in the letter.

They said Cardinal is creating instability for residents with high behavioral health needs by, among other things, failing to “timely authorize placement of persistently mentally ill individuals for the services recommended by licensed behavioral health professionals and/or attending physicians.”

The leaders said they have used county money to cover these gaps in service for residents but in doing so has “taxed our Social Services caseworkers and created significant county costs.”

The letter also said there is a limited network of providers for foster children.

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen responded to the letter on Oct. 26.

“I take these concerns seriously, and have directed my team to take immediate action in their review and assessment,” Cohen wrote. She said state leaders would meet with county leaders to discuss the concerns raised in the letter.

“We want to ensure the obligations of Cardinal Innovation are met,” she wrote.

Cardinal has a troubled recent history in Mecklenburg County and in North Carolina. Leaders in Union County and Cabarrus County recently voted to cut ties with the company, North Carolina Health News reported.

At a Feb. 18 meeting of Mecklenburg County commissioners, which Cardinal representatives said they were not invited to, Assistant County Manager Anthony Trotman suggested the county should consider ending its relationship with the company.

Trotman accused Cardinal of denying or delaying care for 42 abandoned or neglected children in the county. He also said Cardinal cut funding for the county’s mobile mental health crisis response team, which Trotman said caused the team to miss 52 calls for service in 2 ½ months.

Cardinal representatives defended themselves at a March 10 commissioners meeting. The company’s Chief Operating Officer Dietrick Williams told commissioners there were “quite possibly” delays in service but he said all children who were in need of emergency placement received services through Cardinal.

Cardinal CEO Trey Sutten said the organization did not cut funding for the crisis response team but instead changed its funding model.

A state audit in 2017 found, among other things, that Cardinal’s former CEO Richard Topping spent tax dollars on lavish trips for its board of directors. North Carolina’s health department temporarily took over Cardinal and fired its board of directors before returning control to a new board in 2018.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.