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Health Care Agency Director Named

Government: Former L.A. Childrens Hospital executive will take over troubled county organization.

January 14, 1999|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An executive in the health maintenance organization industry has been named to take over the problem-plagued Health Care Agency, which has come under criticism for its loss of key staff members and problems related to its county psychiatrists.

Donald R. Oxley, 53, the vice president and executive director for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals in Cleveland, will replace Tom Uram, who retired in March.

Oxley, who will earn $145,808 a year, is a former executive at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles and administrator at Los Angeles County's Department of Health Services.

Oxley was selected from five finalists who were recruited nationwide with the help of a search firm, according to Jan Mittermeier, the county's executive officer. Mittermeier said she sought someone who could help change an agency "in a creative, yet collaborative way."

"He has good communication skills and good collaborative skills, and was head of a large organization in a changing environment and used some creative methods to bring change," she said.

Oxley's appointment is effective Friday.

The agency--with its 2,400 employees and $272-million budget--oversees areas of public, environmental and mental health.

It has come under fire on several fronts, including a highly critical report concluding that county psychiatrists jeopardized the health of abused and neglected children at the Orangewood Children's Home by prescribing powerful drugs without recording a supporting diagnosis or keeping accurate charts.

In addition, the agency also has lost a number of senior staff members.

"Mr. Oxley has an opportunity to come in and build his own team," said Samuel Roth, a spokesman for the Orange County Medical Assn. "There's been a major turnover in the leadership of the Health Care Agency in the last 18 months. Virtually all of their major key people are leaving or have left."

Roth was optimistic about Oxley's selection, noting that the Ohio executive has both a public and private background in health care.

"In a county with no county hospital, which relies on private hospitals and clinics, the mix of experience we understand he has should provide for real creativity and potential for furthering the public-private partnership," Roth said.

As a vice president at Kaiser, Oxley renegotiated hospital and nursing home contracts for an annual savings of $18 million, and oversaw a restructuring that produced a 1998 savings of $5 million.

Initially, he does not envision making sweeping changes at the agency.

"The first thing I have to do is spend some time in the agency," he said. "I have a lot to learn about the county and the agency. I need to spend some time getting to know the organization and the people.

"As the new director, I assume that we're starting with a clean slate, learning the organization and government and people in the community and trying to get a sense of what the issues are and finding a way to go about it."

Oxley said he had asked health care service organizations in Southern California what they thought of Orange County before accepting the job.

"I found that the county of Orange is forward-thinking and offered many opportunities to work with a very professional team."

Oxley received a bachelor's degree in business administration at Union College in Lincoln, Neb., and a master's degree in health care management from Cal State Los Angeles.

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