Sunday, January 04, 2009
San Diego County uses worn-out excuse of attorney-client privilege to keep investigation report secret
Did gifts cause CCS therapists to favor certain vendors of wheelchairs and other medical devices?
The Investigation the County Doesn't Want You to See
By WILL CARLESS
Jan. 4, 2009
At some point in 2007, a whistleblower at California Children's Services, a program run by the county of San Diego that provides wheelchairs and other medical devices to children with physical disabilities, filed a complaint with the county alleging improprieties within the program.
The county launched a widespread investigation into the allegations that continued for at least 13 months in 2007 and 2008, records show. The investigation led to disciplinary action against county employees and changes to the county's ethics policies, but the report the investigators produced, and all the information it contains, is being kept a secret.
... Minutes from meetings show staff discussed allegations that therapists at the CCS program received gifts from vendors in violation of county ethics rules and may have favored certain vendors over others because of those gifts.
But exactly what was alleged, who was investigated and how deep any problems at the program went, are all things the county's top officials have decided shouldn't be released to the public...
One public records expert said attorney-client privilege is consistently used by public agencies to avoid releasing embarrassing documents, and pointed out that the county could chose to waive its privilege and make the document public.
The county has also refused to provide a copy of the report to the state of California, which provides the bulk of the $20 million budget for the CCS program. A spokesman for the California Department of Health Care Services, which oversees the CCS program, said county officials told the state that the investigation only concerned "personnel issues" and that they had not found any evidence that the program had been negatively impacted by the individuals investigated.
...A county spokeswoman said in an e-mail that the medical therapists work with the family's physician to provide the best piece of equipment available to the child from a list of possible vendors.
The selection of vendors, and the possible undue influence placed on county therapists by vendors who gave gifts to county staff, appear from documents to have been the subject of the internal investigation sparked by the whistleblower...
...In San Diego, public bodies regularly hand over such reports and documents.
But, in response to a request from voiceofsandiego.org media partner NBC 7/39 for the investigative report, County Counsel John Sansone claimed that the document fell within one of the law's exemptions and therefore did not have to be provided...