When Gov. Piyush Jindal named his four nominees to the University Medical Center Management Corp. Board back in March of 2010, he not only was looking after some of his more generous campaign contributors, but he also placed one of them in a position of potential conflict of interest.
Dr. Christopher Rich of Alexandria currently holds three separate contracts with the state totaling more than $3.3 million and he has already run into ethical problems with one of those contracts.
Rich was named by Jindal as one of four nominees for the proposed billion-dollar University Medical Center that is to serve as a replacement for the 70-year-old facility that was closed after its basement was flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Like many of Jindal’s high-profile appointees, Rich, his wife Vickie and business partner Dr. Mark Dodson, also of Alexandria, combined to contribute $9,500 to Jindal’s campaigns in 2007, 2010 and 2011.
Others nominated by Jindal and the amounts of their contributions included Tim Barfield of Baton Rouge, recently appointed by Jindal as Secretary of the Department of Revenue ($15,000); David Voelker of New Orleans ($70,000 to Jindal campaigns and to his political slush fund, Believe in Louisiana), and Donald “Boysie” Bollinger of Lockport ($183,850 to Jindal campaigns and to Believe in Louisiana).
Rich has a $516,646 contract to serve as Medical Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) Administration that calls on him to approve or disapprove medical treatments and procedures for the Office of Workers’ Compensation.
That contract is actually to Chrickie Investments, a company owned by him and his wife Vickie.
In what has become an all too familiar theme, Jindal pumps up the salaries of his appointees even as state employees are being denied salary increases for a fourth consecutive year.
Even before he paid Barfield $250,000, which was more than twice what Barfield’s predecessor Cynthia Bridges was paid, Rich’s $516,646 contract as OWC Medical Director far outstrips the $168,333 paid to his predecessor, Dr. Larry Ferrachi.
In 2009, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law which changed the process for determining whether or not medical treatment was “medically necessary.” If a workers’ comp insurance company denies a treatment request, the denial is referred to the OWC medical director, in this case, Rich.
Though the law was passed in 2009, problems with implementing the rules to enforce the new law delayed the actual enactment date of the law until July 13, 2011.
In March of this year, Rich testified before the House Labor Committee that he was “denying 80 percent” of all treatment requested.
At the same time he was contracted to be the sole determiner of all medical treatment for Louisiana’s injured workers, he and Dodson were partners in Louisiana Ortho Services which held a $2.3 million contract to provide orthopedic services for the state, specifically Huey P. Long Medical Center.
Huey P. Long Medical Center is one of 10 state hospitals that make up the LSU Health Care System which is administered by the LSU Board of Supervisors which also oversees the University Medical Center Management Board on which Rich sits.
Because he also owned an interest in Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital which also provided medical treatment to injured workers, the question of his eligibility to make decisions on medical treatment which could financially impact the hospital as well as Mid-State came before the Louisiana Board of Governmental Ethics twice—in March of 2011 and again in January of this year.
In March 2011, the ethics board ruled that Rich was prohibited, in his capacity as Medical Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation, from participation in any matter involving Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital.
Rich, however, maintains that he no longer practices surgical procedures.
In January 2012, however, a second opinion said there was no conflict regarding Rich’s relationship with L since he had terminated his relationship with Mid-State—only six months since the state had awarded Louisiana Ortho, that $2.3 million contract. Though he no longer is affiliated with Mid-State, he remains a partner in Louisiana Ortho with Dodson who in turn remains as a partner with Mid-State. The timing and the connections, to say the least, are curious.
Rich and Dodson also are partners in a company called Activemed, Inc., which has a contract for $523,000 to provide orthopedic medical services to Northwestern State University student athletes.
Activemed also provides secondary insurance, also known as a preferred provider network (PPN) for three Louisiana university college sports teams and athletes. Basically, the athletes’ primary health insurance is the first payor for sports-related injuries. Then, if the student treats with an Activemed provider and they are enrolled with Activemed, then Activemed picks up the tab for the remainder of the treatment.
This means that Drs. Rich and Dodson have direct control over which doctors Activemed refers injured students to and if those same doctors happen to treat any Louisiana workers’ compensation patients, there is a potential conflict of interest for Rich.
Activemed’s internet web page contains no list of medical providers, nor is Activemed listed under the Louisiana Department of Insurance either as an insurance company, a third party administrator (TPA), or an adjusting company.
So, a surgeon who says he no longer performs surgery but who is listed as the 2012-2013 team physician (since 1990) in the current Northwestern State University sports programs, holds three contracts with the state for medical services worth more than $3 million—and serves on the board of the University Medical Center Management Corp. Board under the auspices of the LSU Health System.
So much for the most ethical, accountable, and transparent administration in Louisiana history.