LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Monique Andrade, 21, of Chatsworth has cerebral palsy, is a quadriplegic and gets fed through a tube in her stomach.

Her mother Claudia says she consumes four and a half cans of Ensure a day, the only food that keeps her alive.

Monique is on Medi-Cal and the supplies are supposed to be delivered once a month through L.A. Care, a public health plan that gets hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

However, in the past few months, her supplies have been late or never arrived.

“It breaks my heart to see that she has to go without what she needs,” Claudia said. “She has a simple life. She doesn’t ask for much. It just doesn’t seem fair.”

A CBS2 News investigation found while Monique goes hungry, L.A. Care takes care of its own employees.

David Goldstein uncovered tens of thousand dollars in catered meals, even $2,700 for 1,200 slices of pie.

L.A. Care is the largest public health plan in the nation serving over 2 million people, some of the most vulnerable in the county.

The investigation reviewed thousands of pages of L.A. Care’s credit card charges and salary information for 2016 and found hundreds of receipts for catered breakfast or lunch meetings.

An executive lunch package of whitefish for more than $400 and nearly $16,000 in charges for In-and-Out Burger are a couple of examples.

What was it for?

According to L.A. Care’s project and event justification form, the word celebration was crossed out, describing it as an employee team building event.

In all, Goldstein’s investigation found almost $200,000 spent on catered meals.

We discovered the catering is all part of $500,000 projected to be spent on team building, recognition events and promotional items for the 1,900 people who work at LA Care.

CEO John Baackes defends the spending of taxpayer money, saying it helps employee morale.

“Why should taxpayer money be used for that?” Goldstein asked.

“Because it builds the confidence of the people who are serving them. Just paying them a salary to walk in the door, you know, there’s more to the work than just that,” Baackes said.

Baackes himself makes some big bucks. He pulled in more than $820,000 in salary and benefits in 2016.

He says the salary is competitive with others in the field.

Goldstein also found Baackes flew first class to a conference in Washington, D.C., costing taxpayers almost $3,500. Baackes says it must have been the only flight available.

“It was booked two weeks before the conference. Two weeks before the conference and your people couldn’t find anything other than first class? Goldstein asked.

“Apparently not,” Baackes said.

When the interview was over, Baackes apparently didn’t like the line of questioning.

“I mean, you don’t really believe the questions you’re asking me, do you?” he asked.

But government ethics expert Bob Stern says those questions should be asked.

“We all want happy employees, but clearly taxpayer money should be spent as wisely as possible. It’s not their money; it’s our money,” Stern said.

And it’s money spent on other people’s well-being, not Monique’s.

“The bottom line is they need to change their name because L.A. doesn’t care,” Stern said.

David Goldstein

Comments (17)
  1. Have you ever been to a DMV and witnessed “bad customer service”? Isn’t it sad to think of the reality of those public employee’s? As a taxpayer and consumer of public services, having a happy employee service my health needs is extremely important. Think about it, if you have employee’s that are unhappy in their jobs servicing people with their health, how likely are they to go that extra mile when it’s not required? Not at all I say. Now if a simple “In and Out” burger can make that happen, I’ll pay that price any day! We all work and deserve a happy work place especially when it comes to dealing with the public. Imagine a DMV where you are greeted with a smile and respect, all because we, as taxpayers, took the time to show “appreciation” by giving them a burger. Small price to pay, for the satisfaction of all.

  2. prismdrive says:

    There is a false equivalence between the expenditures and a member not receiving their healthcare supplies. LA Care is an insurance company, so they do not personally deliver the supplies, a contracted Provider would be doing that. Furthermore, a quick Google search reveals a 2015 LA County Audit report of LA Care where they noted that the company had an operating budget of $4.14 billion (FY 2013-2014). Goldstein reported $500,000 earmarked for team building/catering, which is about 0.012 percent. If Goldstein, feels that expenditure is too much, then that is his opinion to hold and to defend. However, his facts should be delivered with context. I believe companies operating with public money should be held accountable and that the questions asked are valid. I disagree with his conclusions, and I feel that the reporting done by Goldstein is incomplete at best, lazy at worst.

    1. LA Care has a fiduciary duty that differentiates them from a private sector business. The bigger the government…the bigger the agency…the smaller the individual…perfect example of it here. This executive is irresponsible. There have been 5 months of lost supplies since Monique was forced to choose a plan and leave straight Medi-cal. Prior to that…20 years of supplies…never a problem….

  3. perhaps there was a problem with the durable medical equipment comany that supplies the suppiles to Monique Andrade…
    or maybe Monique used up her benefit for the month.

    good job Goldstein.

    1. Not the case…..There have been 5 months of lost supplies since Monique was forced to choose a plan and leave straight Medi-cal. Prior to that…20 years of supplies…never a problem….

  4. Mark Strunin says:

    I believe in accountability. I worked for LA Care for seventeen years as it struggled to establish itself against many of the same forces that are trying to undo the Affordable Care Act. The willingess of line employees and managers to make consistent efforts beyond what is expected is the key to success in a healthplan or a tv news station. Offering a modest recognition in terms of a holiday event or special gathering is a great motivator to staff to translate how theyy are appreciated to how to serve the members of the health plan in a way that shows appreciation and concern. THe annual $500,000 budget for employee recognition amounts to $250 a person for LA Care’s 2,000 staff. .Why didn’t the report mention that health plan members -like- the mother of the teenage beneficiary mentioned – can serve on committees and even the Board of Governors who review monthly in public sessions how public funds are spent. The oversight is robust and considered an essential value of the orgnaization. Yes, there are delays and mixups – but motivated staff quickly fix those problems and apologize as well. This report has much in common with one done in 2013 I beleive by the same reporter about expenditures under the former CEO. I welcome transparency and encourage reports like this one when the story contains the entire picture of what is happening, not just a reporting of some facts that lend themselves to an incomplete understanding,

  5. $3500 plane ticket. Shocking. How about Health Net spending $18,000 on each executive’s plane tickets to India to ride elephants and to make plans to eliminate over 750 employee jobs in 2008-2009. Health Net’s response: “Well, we didn’t ride elephants”. Nice to rip off shareholders and put employees in the unemployment line. Aren’t those people taxpayers too?

  6. Rod Kratovil says:

    yeah, I’m not seeing the abuse here. If a $5 In&Out burger can keep employees happy and stop turnover, Im all for it. Maybe the DMV should give their employees some burgers.

    Goldstein, I’ve seen much better reporting. LOVED the DWP, LA DOT & Jiffy Lube stories. Now that was clear abuse and fraud!

  7. This is a travesty and all involved should have to pay back or get fired and go to jail.

  8. It is said that a person’s character is revealed by their treatment of those who can do nothing for them. We live in a State that touts superior altruism and has the solution to help everybody….and yet…the very small population represented by Monique is shamefully underserved. LA Care is just one of many impotent government agencies responsible for these individuals. Of course many like her can’t vote as deemed by the courts, and yet they are totally dependent on the government for their sustenance and well-being. The lack of focus on Monique is a prime example of the marginalization of the severely disabled by those who espouse to share the same altruism. Telling…to say the least.

  9. After this aired on TV, the reporter stated that if Obamcare is repealed that millions in funding will disappear. This is unsubstantiated. Do your research—this is untrue.

    1. Monique was straight Medi-Cal for 18 years of her life….she was adopted from foster care and as a permanently disable person she has coverage…the problems happened when she was switched to the Obama care/Ca model….and you are correct…it is unsustainable…and ineffective….

  10. “David Goldstein uncovered tens of thousand dollars in catered meals, even $2,700 for 1,200 slices of pie.”

    Freeze the frame on the invoice for the pies. The Unit Price is calculated out to $2400. That’s $2.00 a slice for the actual pie. The US government has been known to pay $57 for one hammer.
    Listen to Goldstein’s voice as he tries to sensationalize his discoveries.

    “Baackes himself makes some big bucks. He pulled in more than $820,000 in salary and benefits in 2016.”

    Those are “some big bucks”? Really? Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini: $30 million in 2013.

  11. Is it possible to obtain the name and email of the lady so I could donate some money to help her out? Thank you for exposing these disgusting crooks!!!!

  12. Every employer should have some budget set aside to retain employees, decrease employee turnover, and increase employee morale. The costs of finding and hiring new staff on a regular basis usually far outweighs keeping staff onboard. If a $2 pie once a year or a $1 cookie to show employee appreciation makes a difference, what is wrong with that?

    All these numbers are thrown out in your article are taken out of context. What I would like to see is how much % of L.A. Care’s budget is spent on these expenditures. How many employees does LA Care have? What is their annual budget? What is the industry average expenditures for the same types of items?

    What % is the $2,400 for slices of pie in a annual budget of maybe $1.5 billion? .0000016%? That’s sad.

    This is sensationalist journalism that at the end of the day may actually hurt the most vulnerable due to unstable employee retention and low employee morale.

  13. Hello Mr. Goldstein,

    Please contact me. I have a story for you.