Ful­ton au­dits in wake of mil­lions in un­spent HIV funds

Ex­ecu­tor of CDC grant money grilled by Ful­ton County Chair­man

GA Voice - - Georgia News -

By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

The Ful­ton County Com­mis­sion has or­dered a full au­dit of the county health depart­ment fol­low­ing mis­man­age­ment of Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion (CDC) grant money ear­marked for HIV preven­tion ef­forts. Ful­ton is in the cen­ter of one of the na­tion’s hard­est hit ar­eas in terms of new HIV in­fec­tions.

The or­der fol­lows an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by WABE that re­vealed the depart­ment had failed to spend some $8.7 mil­lion of $20 mil­lion in CDC grant money it had re­ceived since 2012.

As to the source of the prob­lems, all par­ties point to Dr. Pa­trice Harris, di­rec­tor of health ser­vices for Ful­ton County, who, as prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the grant, is re­spon­si­ble for ex­e­cut­ing the county’s HIV preven­tion strat­egy.

Grant money ex­ecu­tor grilled by Ful­ton County Chair­man

Harris ap­peared be­fore Ful­ton County Board Chair­man John Eaves and the rest of the com­mis­sion in a tense June 17 meet­ing, where Eaves grilled her.

Harris claimed that the county was ap­proved for $28 mil­lion of CDC grant money for 2012 to 2015, and that $7 mil­lion of that had been re­turned. She also said they had made a car­ry­over re­quest to the CDC, or a re­quest to re­coup the funds that were re­turned, in the amount of $2.1 mil­lion.

“To me if we got $28 mil­lion, first of all I’d be jump­ing up and down, and then I’d do ev­ery­thing in my power and my means to make sure as much of this money if not all of this money is uti­lized,” Eaves said. “And even though you’re see­ing the po­ten­tial of $2.1 of the $7 mil­lion that we can re­cap­ture, to me that’s still go­ing to leave a bal­ance of $5 mil­lion. That’s a lot of money.”

Eaves went on to ques­tion Harris’ claims that these num­bers were re­ported

June 26, 2015

Ful­ton County Com­mis­sion Chair­man John Eaves says ‘ex­treme dis­ap­point­ment’ was his ini­tial re­ac­tion to news of the county’s mis­man­age­ment of HIV funds. (File photo) “We’re go­ing to get to the bot­tom of it and find out why these mon­eys were not ex­pended, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the grav­ity of the HIV/ AIDS prob­lem in Ful­ton County.”

—Ful­ton County Com­mis­sion Chair­man John Eaves

to the county man­ager, and then asked her whether she felt this was a good re­flec­tion on the Ful­ton County gov­ern­ment.

“It is not, com­mis­sioner, cer­tainly,” Harris replied. “Nor me.”

History of mis­man­age­ment of HIV preven­tion funds in Ful­ton County

This isn’t the first time an agency in Ge­or­gia has had trou­ble al­lo­cat­ing funds for HIV preven­tion. Lo­cal HIV/AIDS ac­tivists com­plained in 2011 about the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Public Health’s HIV Unit, whose re­spon­si­bil­ity it is to dis­trib­ute CDC funds to state health de­part­ments and HIV/AIDS agen­cies. At that time, a CDC spokesper­son told the Ge­or­gia Voice mil­lions in HIV preven­tion funds were be­ing re­turned.

“From fis­cal year 2007 through fis­cal year 2009, the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Public Health av­er­aged an an­nual award of ap­prox­i­mately $7.93 mil­lion and re­quested to car­ry­over funds on an av­er­age of 8 per­cent [or about $634,000] per year,” CDC spokesper­son Scott Bryan told the Ge­or­gia Voice in 2011.

“Es­sen­tially, if a health depart­ment has un­spent funds at the end of the year, that money is re­turned to CDC. The state health depart­ment can re­quest those un­spent funds be car­ried over and added to the fol­low­ing year’s bud­get (funds),” Bryan told the Ge­or­gia Voice at that time.

Ful­ton’s cur­rent prob­lems are com­mon, as health de­part­ments across the coun­try have been ad­just­ing to the CDC’s de­ci­sion in 2012 to change pol­icy by shift­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in preven­tion funds away from the states and mov­ing the money di­rectly to the lo­cal level.

‘We’re go­ing to get to the bot­tom of it’

When asked by Ge­or­gia Voice what his ini­tial re­ac­tion was to the mis­man­age­ment of funds by the Ful­ton County Health Depart­ment, Chair­man Eaves re­sponded, “Ex­treme dis­ap­point­ment.”

Eaves, who along with fel­low com­mis­sioner Joan Garner will be two of the elected of­fi­cials pair­ing up with HIV-pos­i­tive youth for the Equal­ity Foun­da­tion of Ge­or­gia’s up­com­ing HIV Youth Pol­icy Ad­vi­sors Pro­gram, vows to make things right.

“We’re go­ing to get to the bot­tom of it and find out why these mon­eys were not ex­pended, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the grav­ity of the HIV/AIDS prob­lem in Ful­ton County,” he said. “The larger is­sue is why we weren’t in­formed about this. Why didn’t we know about it? I feel that the depart­ment heads that over­see the dol­lars are re­spon­si­ble for in­form­ing the board, es­pe­cially in sit­u­a­tions like this where there’s prob­lems.”

Jeff Graham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity and a mem­ber of the Ge­or­gia HIV Preven­tion Com­mu­nity Plan­ning Group, says the Ful­ton County Com­mis­sion has acted ap­pro­pri­ately con­sid­er­ing the de­gree of ur­gency in the mat­ter.

“We cer­tainly need to know what all the prob­lems have been to move for­ward, but we need to move for­ward quickly,” he told Ge­or­gia Voice. “It is ap­pro­pri­ate to do an au­dit and take a look at things sys­tem-wide. I would hope that doesn’t de­lay the im­ple­men­ta­tion of some changes that hope­fully could take place in the next month or two so this pro­gram can get back on track.”

Chair­man Eaves won’t put a timetable on the au­dit at this point, cit­ing a need for feed­back from Ful­ton County Au­di­tor An­thony Nicks, but does say, “We’ll find out very shortly.”

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