The Shrill Whistle-blower

The war between a state agency and a self-appointed watchdog degenerates into accusations of racism, revenge and name-calling--and your tax dollars pay for it

Since then, Kahlstorf has also been a source of stories about AHCCCS in the Arizona Republic and on local TV stations.

To hear Kahlstorf tell it, that's just what he does: He doesn't expect love or money or fame, but he does want the truth to come out. Kahlstorf even goes so far as to say he's not really involved in the fight with AHCCCS; he's just covering it as a journalist.

"I think our track record as a media organization stands on its own," he says. "The truth is, I don't really know too many of these people personally. I have the same relationship most reporters have with their subjects. The only difference with us is, after we write the story, if we think there's something the federal government ought to be doing . . . we will take the time to document . . . and forward it to them."

AHCCCS has persecuted him and other AHCCCSWatch members, Kahlstorf says.
"They would literally pick up the phone . . . Charlie Adornetto [head of AHCCCS' Office of Grievance and Appeals] . . . would call up the Republic or a TV station and go, 'This [AHCCCSWatch member] had this kind of problem in their past, and this one, in 1986, had three jobs,'" Kahlstorf says. "It was the kind of thing where someone had taken the time to really look into what you had been doing. . . . As far as the attacks on me personally, that I'm used to. Charlie Adornetto once screamed at me over the telephone that I was like Jeffrey Dahmer, and it was his responsibility to protect the agency from people like me, from the Jeffrey Dahmers of the world."

(Adornetto denies he's ever called Kahlstorf a "Jeffrey Dahmer"--he says that once, as he argued about public access to agency offices, he told Kahlstorf, "Well, Jeffrey Dahmer was once a member of the public, too." Adornetto says he's given reporters background on Kahlstorf, but just to let them know the facts.)

Kahlstorf believes AHCCCS personnel get so angry with him because they can't handle criticism. In spite of this, Kahlstorf claims, he manages to keep his cool.

"When people are screaming at you, you're trying to operate on any kind of professional level, you don't just abandon all the things you know as normal," Kahlstorf says. "Nothing AHCCCS would do or say would surprise me."

Kahlstorf's narrative history of AHCCCS and AHCCCSWatch is abbreviated, at least. AHCCCS personnel are only too happy to fill in a few of the blanks.

They complain that some of Kahlstorf's charges have made the front page; but when he comes up short, AHCCCS points out, there's little or no coverage.

For example, one Health Care Financing Administration review of AHCCCSWatch's most serious charge--that AHCCCS paid HMOs for dead recipients and never demanded reimbursement--found the claim to be baseless. HCFA examined a random sample of cases in 1995. It concluded "death terminations were being processed in a timely and accurate manner" and "AHCCCS staff took very thorough measures to resolve them." Kahlstorf maintains the HCFA sample was too small to catch any real fraud.

And at least one federal administrator has told Kahlstorf he doesn't want to hear it anymore. In a 1995 letter, Richard Chambers, associate regional administrator of HCFA, told Kahlstorf to communicate only in writing "in light of your mischaracterization of our conversation . . . [and because] your frequent and protracted telephone calls to various members of my staff have reached the point where they interfere with the agency's mission."

(Kahlstorf claims he's since patched things up with Chambers; Chambers didn't return calls for comment.)

The state Attorney General's Office investigated charges made by Jan Schoonover and AHCCCSWatch and found they did not rise to the level of criminal conduct. (However, the AG's Office warned AHCCCS that, in light of the continuing federal investigation, AHCCCS should not view the findings as a complete exoneration of all allegations against the agency.)

AHCCCSWatch hasn't fared much better pursuing its claims of persecution by the agency. Kahlstorf and Farrell Janssen both recently lost their employee-grievance appeals against AHCCCS in Superior Court. Kahlstorf was ordered to pay AHCCCS $1,876 in attorneys fees. A few weeks earlier, a state personnel board ruled against Jan Schoonover's whistle-blower complaint in an administrative hearing, which she is now also free to appeal to Superior Court.

Frank Lopez, public information officer for AHCCCS, believes Kahlstorf "shops around" the same allegations of fraud and mismanagement to different agencies until he finds someone willing to buy into it.

"Kahlstorf first went to the Attorney General's Office, they investigated, found nothing. He didn't like that--obviously, they were in our pocket or something. He went to the Health Care Financing Administration, the agency that oversees us, they sent a team of people out, found nothing. Again, it was HCFA that was covering for us," Lopez says. "Then he went to the Department of Justice, and that's where, I think, they said, 'We're going to take a really close look at this.'"

Lopez, a former reporter and editor himself, says he understands the need to look into the allegations, but he thinks people should consider the source.

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