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Gaps in record keeping, spending plague Putnam Health Department

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Several of the items listed in the Putnam County Health Department's budget for its 2012 and 2013 federal threat preparedness grants may never have been purchased, according to records.

In its monthly finance reports submitted to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the PCHD listed several items purchased with those grant funds, including a diesel generator and convertible hand truck valued at nearly $7,000.

But when Putnam County held an auction on Nov. 2 that included assets from the Health Department, neither item was part of the PCHD's inventory, according to Andy Skidmore, a health board member and the commissioner who oversaw the auction.

The Gazette filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a list of all assets owned by the Health Department, but was told that no such list exists.

"The Putnam County Health Department did not maintain a list of capital assets and/or materials. Therefore, we are unable to provide you supporting documentation for equipment listed in financial reports by the PCHD to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources," Lolita Kirk, the interim administrator for the Putnam agency and administrator for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, wrote to the Gazette in response.

The PCHD is currently under federal investigation and the threat preparedness money given to the agency comes from an annual federal grant. The money is awarded to county and municipal health departments by the DHHR, but according to Allison Adler, a DHHR spokeswoman, the agency is not responsible for maintaining records of purchases made by local health departments.

"The Center for Threat Preparedness does not maintain an inventory list -- nor are they required by the grant to maintain an inventory list -- of items purchased with federal grant funds by local health departments in West Virginia," Adler said.  "Local health departments are autonomous and they maintain their own fiscal accounting processes and systems."

The DHHR is responsible for disbursing federal grants to local agencies. When asked what forms of oversight the DHHR employed in regulating the spending of its sub-grantees, Adler said there were guidelines in place, but did not outline any specific guidelines the agency uses to keep track of local records.

"As outlined in DHHR centralized policy, there are a number of mechanisms available to spending units for monitoring all grants, some of which are outlined as mandatory requirements and some of which are available to spending units as part of a discretionary, targeted monitoring approach to address specific issues and needs of the program in question," she said.

The DHHR initially requested $50 per hour to procure documents related to the PCHD. According to state code, it is unlawful for agencies to request compensation beyond the physical cost of making copies of documents related to FOIA requests.

In budgets submitted for the fiscal year 2012, the PCHD also claimed to have purchased a smart board valued at $4,985, as well as $1,500 in iPad accessories, $2,400 in travel related to threat preparedness, $1,200 in cell phone expenses related to threat preparedness and a trailer for $4,098.

Many of the expenditure reports listed for the Putnam agency's fiscal year 2012 have duplicated expenditures, and the last four months of reports for 2012 were submitted on the same day in December of that year.

Sam Henson, the former health officer for the PCHD, said FBI agents approached him two weeks ago for information and documentation related to the health department.

"They just wanted general information. I did clinics and so forth, and that was it. I didn't have anything to do with the finances at all. I was sort of out of the loop; I wasn't in that part of the chain of command," Henson said.  "I haven't had any contact with anybody. When this all hit, I said 'to heck with it,' and I retired."

According to 2011 and 2012 reports issued by the state auditor's office, documents not provided by the PCHD included "capital assets supporting documentation, budget, federal expenditure schedule, minutes of board meetings, list of board members and terms, IRS 941 Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return forms, Retirement payments forms, unemployment payment forms WV state tax payment forms, invoices, accounts payable supporting documentation, accounts receivable supporting documentation, compensated absences supporting documentation and OPEB trend information."

Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said that PCHD must improve its record-keeping before they can receive the grant for 2013.

"The state auditor's report speaks for itself. While the fiscal year 2013 has not come out, the 2011 and 2012 audit reports are very similar, and are showing the same pattern of lack of appropriate record keeping, and we suspect 2013 will be very similar to that," Gupta said.

He also said the threat preparedness grant for Putnam has yet to be released to the KCHD.

Gupta said the agency is developing a "statement of work," which outlines what will be done with the grant money, but the Putnam agency, which should have been developing threat preparedness protocol and equipment for the last 13 years, must now start from scratch.

"Before we can receive that money, we need a statement of work that is acceptable to both parties and the CDC, and that's the very basic thing, and that where we're stuck right now," Gupta said. "We're hopeful we will have a statement of work, because only we are able to tell what we can do, because we're able to tell, on the ground level, the level of threat preparedness that does or does not exist in Putnam County."

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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