Under the Dome

NC senator wants money back from a mental health office hit for spending on salaries and luxuries

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions handles government-funded behavioral health services for 16 counties, including Mecklenburg. The office is at 1100 South Tryon Street in Charlotte.
Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions handles government-funded behavioral health services for 16 counties, including Mecklenburg. The office is at 1100 South Tryon Street in Charlotte. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

The state should try to get money back from a regional mental health office that spent too much on CEO salaries, said state Sen. Tommy Tucker.

On Thursday, the state auditor’s office released a report on high salaries and lavish spending at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions, a regional mental health office that covers 20 counties, including Mecklenburg. The office purchases mental health services for about 850,000 low-income patients using state, federal and local money.

The audit said Cardinal spent $1.2 million more on CEO salaries over several years than state policy allows. The report also criticized what it described as extravagant spending on retreats to luxury hotels, alcohol, and first-class airline tickets.

Cardinal defended its spending, with executives saying administrative costs are a tiny fraction of its budget, and that the office didn’t know about the CEO salary limit until the audit started.

The audit pointed out a law that would allow the state have Cardinal pay back the $1.2 million.

Tucker, a Waxhaw Republican, said he would like try to get the money back, and wants the Cardinal board of directors to speak at a legislative committee meeting.

“How do you serve the least of these ... and spend that kind of money on entertainment and salaries and sleep at night?” Tucker asked.

He expects the Senate to act on a bill that has already passed the House that would help define limits on mental health office directors’ pay.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

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