DHHS taking over mental health agency for misuse of federal, state funds

A Charlotte based health agency is under fire, amid big questions regarding millions of dollars going to executives, instead of patients.

Cardinal Innovations provides mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services to 20 North Carolina counties. As of Monday, the State Department of Health and Human Services has taken over Cardinal leadership, saying executives misused millions of state and federal funds.

“It seems like everything is coming to the light,” Kannapolis resident Terri Clark says.

Clark adds, she was not surprised by the news Cardinal Innovations would be taken over by the state.

“The people need to be taken care of, with mental illness and it’s not happening,” she says.

Clark says her brother, James, was part of an at-home program within the agency. She feels the family did not get what was promised, before he died.

“Not getting the care, that they said they were going to support my brother with,” she claims.

Last month, an auditor criticized Cardinal for severance packages that ran too long, for 10 employees other than the CEO. Then, after the agency fired CEO Richard Topping, his severance package reportedly totaled $1.7 million.

“I think the board and Mr. Topping practiced reverse Robin Hood, and they took from the poor and gave to the rich,” Senator Tommy Tucker says.

Tucker, who represents Union County, says the state has been carefully considering how to handle Cardinal’s spending.

“We’re talking about roughly $625 million in cash coming into this one agency that serves 20 counties,” he says. “Therefore, we needed to be careful and have a plan when we took it over.”

Monday, DHHS secretary Mandy Cohen wrote in a letter, that the department “…has concluded we can no longer rely on the Board and executive leadership at Cardinal Innovations to bring Cardinal into compliance with its legal requirements.”

“What took the state so long,” Mecklenburg County Representative Kelly Alexander asks. “Clearly there was something wrong and I’m hoping that because they’re taken over, that they’ll get things straightened out, and the patients will start getting the kind of care that they deserve.”

For Clark, who is left missing her brother, she hopes the attention on Cardinal will also add attention towards patient care.

“There were workers getting paid, that say they were there helping these people with illness, that was not there,” she says.
DHHS is demanding Cardinal repay money spent on excessive severance packages no later than December, saying it must come from administrative funds, not funds that would have otherwise gone to patient care.

Copyright 2017 WBTV. All rights reserved.