Guest Editorial: Cardinal Innovations poised to turn over an encouraging new leaf

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After hearing recently that the 20 members of the new board placed in charge of Cardinal Innovations voted unanimously to accept a state-mandated corrective plan, we’re cautiously optimistic. Now the board must adhere to the plan to gain the public’s confidence.

The corrective plan severely restricts executive salaries and executive and board perks, the Winston-Salem Journal’s Richard Craver reported recently, which were the areas of some of the more obvious abuses practiced by the previous board.

The previous board of Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions, which oversees providers of services for mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse for Medicaid enrollees in 20 North Carolina counties, hit a rough patch after two state audits revealed problems of serious financial mismanagement and regulatory noncompliance. One high-profile abuse involved executive director Richard Topping’s salary of $635,000 — more than three times the state maximum of $204,195, the Journal reported.

Following the audits, Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, took charge, removing Topping and dissolving the board.

The new board is composed of representatives of the counties served. The interim top official is Trey Sutten, a former state health official. According to Cohen, the new members have received extensive training for their roles.

“I feel confident that the new board and leadership team of Cardinal Innovations will keep its focus on the patients and consumers they serve,” Cohen said.

After all that drama, we’re due for a steady hand at the helm — especially the clients who use Cardinal’s services.

Cohen stressed to the current leadership, the new board members and legislators that her department would keep a much closer watch on Cardinal decisions and spending than it did in recent years, the Journal reported. The board has agreed to consult with legislators “before taking any actions outside of its statutory boundaries.”

“We view the issues raised in (two state audits) not as discreet audit findings, but as connected symptoms of a culture at the leadership level that was not consistent with the values of an organization charged with serving members with significant needs,” the board said in a statement. That’s an encouraging view.

The board members will have their hands full as they try to get Cardinal back in shape. The corrective action plan it agreed to covered 13 items, most of which have been completed. It has until July 1 to complete the rest, the Journal reported.

In addition to limiting salaries and other expenses, there’s also the exorbitant lease — nearly $31.6 million — on Cardinal’s headquarters in the NASCAR Hall of Fame building through mid-2026 to settle.

Cardinal’s domain of 20 counties includes Forsyth and five others in the Triad. It’s responsible for more than $675 million in annual federal and state Medicaid money. Serious stewardship is required.

If the board works closely with Cohen, it can give Cardinal the turnaround it needs.