PASCO — Community Health Center La Clinica will have to repay about $500,000 it overcharged Benton and Franklin counties.
A letter alleging fraud set off an investigation that discovered the problem.
About 2 1⁄2 months ago, the Benton-Franklin Human Services Department received the letter, said Benton Commissioner Max Benitz.
Other officials said the letter came from a former La Clinica employee who alleged the clinic fraudulently overcharged the department for mental health services. Benton and Franklin county commissioners jointly oversee the shared department.
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An audit by the department’s compliance officer confirmed La Clinica had overcharged about $500,948 for administrative costs in 2007 and 2008, Benitz said.
For much of that time, La Clinica was supervised by controversial former CEO Francisco Castillon, who was fired in early 2008 after it was discovered he had falsified his resume.
Castillon also was a central figure in a lawsuit filed against the clinic by one of its board members who alleged waste and misapplication of clinic assets.
La Clinica Board President Linda Gustafson said Tuesday that she knew the bicounty department was auditing La Clinica but had not seen any findings about overcharging. She said she would be surprised if the audit found anything resembling fraud.
Gustafson said she was not aware of a specific amount that La Clinica may have overcharged the bicounty department, or if the agency had repaid any money. If La Clinica needs to repay money, it will, she said, and it will take any actions needed to correct any problems.
La Clinica has been audited previously by the state Department of Social and Human Services and Greater Columbia Behavioral Health and did not have any issues, she said.
Benitz said the counties are requiring that La Clinica repay the money. He said he believed about half has been repaid so far and the rest is expected in the next 180 days.
During a Franklin County commission meeting last week, the overcharging was referred to as fraud.
Franklin Commissioner Bob Koch said the term was used because it was in the allegations made in the letter. However, he said he had not seen any audit findings.
Franklin and Benton county commissioners are to meet at 11 a.m. today at the Franklin County Courthouse for a briefing on the investigation.
During the meeting, the commissioners will direct the Human Services Department on how to spend the repaid money, Benitz said. It will be spent on mental health services, likely a combination of department-provided and contractor-provided services.
Benitz said he doesn’t see any of the money going back to La Clinica for providing mental health services, at least until all the overcharge is repaid.
La Clinica has indicated a similar error will not occur again, Benitz said.
Carrie Huie-Pascua, human services department director, said Monday that she did not have time to talk to the Herald until after the briefing.
Ed Thornbrugh, department deputy director, also said he had no time.
La Clinica CEO Carl Walters did not return Herald calls.
* Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org