We recently wrote an editorial praising the turnaround at La Clinica in Pasco.
After years of mismanagement and instability in the top administrative positions, we commended new CEO Carl I. Walters II on his swift actions to correct past wrongdoing and move the health clinic in a more positive direction.
Recent news that Nueva Esperanza, La Clinica's behavioral health services division, had overbilled the Benton-Franklin Human Services Division by more than $500,000 had us second-guessing our position.
Was it too soon to jump to the conclusion that such problems were now behind the agency? Did the professionalism and polish of Walters sway us before he'd had time to prove himself?
We've thought about it, and we still believe it's a new day for La Clinica. Walters has been forthright about the overbilling, saying it was an unintentional accounting error and that the system has been corrected.
Half of the money was repaid before the issue became front page news, and a plan is in place for the balance to be reimbursed.
Investigators backed Walters' claim and didn't find any evidence of intentional fraud or wrongdoing.
Under accounting practices that predate Walters' arrival, money was mistakenly placed in La Clinica's general fund instead of being used to provide mental health counseling at its Nueva Esperanza branch.
Franklin County commissioners have delayed approval of a new contract for Nueva Esperanza to provide substance abuse treatment until they could get answers about the problem.
Walters, who has pledged more transparency in La Clinica's operations, immediately offered to sit down with county commissioners and the Benton-Franklin Department of Human Services to discuss the accounting error or any other issues with the clinic's operations.
Walters said turnover in management positions and long-term vacancies in some of those jobs created problems that he's worked to rectify during his nine months at the helm of La Clinica.
The last two CEOs were embroiled in turmoil and controversy for most of their tenures. Both were eventually fired. Their response to controversy was to close ranks and lower a veil of secrecy, intensifying public distrust.
La Clinica and its board have benefited from recent changes, but the damage from past practices still lingers. Walters and the board have done much to clean up the mess and put La Clinica back on the right path, however.
Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck appears to be driving the decision to postpone renewal of the Nueva Esperanza contract.
We can't fault his desire to dig deeper to ensure La Clinica has fixed the accounting problems that led to the billing error.
But La Clinica's response is encouraging. The error was acknowledged, a remedy has been put in place and an offer extended to answer all questions.
The agency deserves a chance to prove it has fixed its problems and that it's fulfilling the critical mission of providing health care to a large portion of our community.
For all the turmoil, the staff's compassion and dedication have never been questioned, and that's a good thing.
As long as the quality of care is high, management and accounting missteps can be repaired.