Ex-member of Board of Health denies bragging about buying position

Published 7:06 pm Wednesday, January 3, 2007

A former member of the state Board of Health, testifying Tuesday before a Senate committee, categorically denied bragging that he had bought his seat on the board.

The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee held a series of hearings the past few months to explore allegations that the Health Department is mired in problems, ranging from a failure to report diseases to claims some board members have conflicts of interest.

Testimony in previous hearings raised allegations that Ted Cain, an Ocean Springs businessman who runs Corporate Management Inc., which manages hospitals and nursing homes, had bragged about buying his seat on the board.

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“No, sir. I never made those statements,” Cain testified Tuesday. “I never made those statements privately or publicly.”

Not everyone was persuaded.

Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said after the hearing that Cain offered “contrite” testimony that failed to convince the committee he was forthcoming.

“I think that Mr. Cain may have said some things loosely … that inflated his sense of self importance,” Horhn said. “We have a lot of information to digest.”

Cain acknowledged making campaign contributions to then Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, but denied that’s why he was appointed to the board.

The allegations raised concerns that Cain, who served on the board from 2001 to 2006, and other members could have unchecked influence on health regulations that pertain to the businesses they run. Cain had been subpoenaed to testify in an earlier hearing but did not show up, blaming his absence on a miscommunication.

After the hearing Tuesday, Cain declined to speculate on why people would accuse him of bragging about buying his seat.

Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, questioned Cain about a slander lawsuit Cain had filed against then-State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson and others.

Cain said the lawsuit, which was eventually dismissed because he failed to show up to hearings, was the result of accusations that Cain wanted to have Thompson fired.

Nunnelee asked Cain about a long absence from the board, saying that “once Dr. Thompson was out of the way, you stopped going to meetings.”

Cain said health problems prevented him from participating in the meetings in the last two years, but he did not elaborate.

David Buchanan, a former director of policy and planning for the Health Department, also was named in Cain’s slander lawsuit. Buchanan testified last year that he found himself at odds with Cain after Cain’s nursing home in Diamondhead was fined in 2001 because a patient was missing.

Buchanan testified at the time that he left the agency in 2002 because he felt he was no longer welcome.

The Health Department’s harshest criticism came after a doctor testified in August that more than two dozen cases of the West Nile virus went unreported in Mississippi. The department denied the allegations, but the Senate Public Health Committee in November issued a “no confidence” vote for State Health Officer Dr. Brian Amy.

The Board of Health voted Dec. 13 to keep Amy on the job. Horhn said the only reason the board didn’t fire Amy is because members were afraid he would sue. The law authorizing the Health Department’s existence expires on June 30, 2007, and the board’s failure to terminate Amy could lead to major changes.

“Very clearly, we need to see some changes,” Horhn said. “It could be pushing for a change at the top and it could mean we tear the whole thing down and start fresh.”