Contra Costa Times Examines Health Services Department Regulator’s Potential Conflicts of Interest
The Contra Costa Times yesterday examined the controversy surrounding Department of Health Services Deputy Director Brenda Klutz's recusals from oversight of more than 70 hospitals and seven nursing homes because of potential conflicts of interest. Klutz's husband, Richard Klutz, has worked for Catholic Healthcare West and last year joined Perot Consulting, which contracts with Tenet Healthcare and St. Joseph Hospital. Brenda Klutz, head of the department's Licensing and Certification Program, does not handle matters involving CHW, Tenet or St. Joseph -- which combined own 74, or more than 16%, of the state's 459 hospitals -- to avoid conflicts of interest. Other members of the department handle issues involving those systems. Klutz said her recusal allows her to "adhere to high ethical standards," adding that department attorneys assured her that she did not have to recuse herself, but could decide to do so to set an example for other employees. Diana Bonta, director of the health department and Klutz's boss, said that she had "no problem" with Klutz's recusals or her husband's employment. However, some ethicists and patient advocates have questioned Klutz's "effectiveness" and judgment as a top regulator. "One half of her income might lead her to be more sympathetic to the industry as a whole and not hold it to the highest standard we'd hope," Dan Wueste, director of the Robert Rutland Center for Ethics at Clemson University, said, adding, "In her subconscious, she could be aligning with them and treating the industry as a whole in the way that lets them get by. It's a general tone that is set" (Peele, Contra Costa Times, 12/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.