Amid a major budget shortfall, the chief executive officer and president at ComCare, the agency that administers mental health benefits for Arizona residents, has resigned.
In a statement, Jill Bemis said she left the beleaguered agency for "personal and family reasons," and that the commute between her home in Tucson and ComCare's headquarters in Phoenix had taken its toll.
Bemis was replaced earlier this month by Ted Williams, an industry consultant who was formerly director of the Maricopa County Hospital in Phoenix and the Arizona Department of Health Services.
ComCare provides mental health services and substance-abuse treatment to low-income Arizona residents. It has an annual budget of about $170 million.
The Arizona Department of Health Services has another take on the situation: ComCare had depleted its $31.5 million in funding for 13,000 non-Medicaid patients more than two months before the 1997 fiscal year ended June 30.
The department hired the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche to audit ComCare's books. The audit was released late last month and was not available at deadline.
"The audit is covering all sorts of management issues, claims management, budgeting and controls," said department spokesman Brad Christensen. He characterized ComCare's operations as being in disarray.
"It's almost like they were slow in opening the spigot (for mental healthcare recipients), and when they did, they went overboard. It seems like there was no rhyme or reason to the spending," Christensen said.
The department likely would take actions based on the results of the audit, according to Christensen. He added that ComCare also may face sanctions for the way it notified its clients it had run out of money.
"There were Medicaid recipients who were told incorrectly they were going to be dropped. Women in domestic-violence shelters who were receiving treatment were notified at the homes they had fled," he said.
ComCare spokeswoman Annette Morrison denied allegations of mismanagement. She traced the depletion of funds to demand for mental health services more than doubling among non-Medicaid eligible residents in the past year. She didn't offer a reason for the surge in demand.
"We had a choice of treating people or putting them on a waiting list. We decided to treat them," she said. "We knew the money was running out, but we kept our eye on it."
Morrison also denied allegations of patients being improperly notified that their treatment was ending.
"I'm not aware of that, but I'm not going to say that some mistakes were not made," she said.
Meanwhile, ComCare has plans to lay off about 15% of its work force, or 180 employees, later this summer to help address the shortfall.