First 5 San Diego Faces Heat for Funding Groups With Advisory Panel Ties
San Diego County's First 5 program for early childhood health care and education services is facing increasing scrutiny over revelations that the commission granted at least $67 million during the past three years to organizations that employ members of its advisory committee, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
First 5 was created in 1998 after California voters approved Proposition 10 to increase the state tobacco tax to fund health and education programs for children up to age five. The measure allowed counties to establish independent commissions that could manage and invest their own funds.
First 5 San Diego established its funding priorities as health, education, family and community. The commission also created an advisory committee to recommend investment strategies.
Although First 5 San Diego adopted a conflict of interest policy, the statute exempts members of any board or advisory committee.
A Union-Tribune analysis found that since 2006, First 5 San Diego has distributed about 44% of its funds to groups with connections to the advisory panel. In addition, the share of funds allocated to groups with staff members on advisory panels has increased from 37.1% of grants in 2006 to 59.6% of grants in 2008.
Health care groups that received First 5 funds were among those the Union-Tribune identified in its analysis.Â The groups and their awards include:
- Rady Children's Hospital, $3.6 million;
- Family Health Centers of San Diego, $2.3 million; and
- Palomar Pomerado Health, $1.7 million.
During a monthly First 5 meeting on Wednesday, Dianne Jacob, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and head of the commission, instructed staff to review relationships between advisory panel members and grant recipients and make recommendations.
Jacob also said that First 5 has not received sufficient oversight and that "a complete housecleaning" of the commission might be necessary.
She said, "Even if it's legal for people who receive contracts to be on the advisory board, that needs to be changed. It's the perception of a conflict of interest, even though the advisory committee does not make decisions" (McDonald, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/4).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.