Audit shows misuse of funds in minority health grant program

The state Department of Health and Human Services announced it has found irregularities in a grant program for minority health communities.

cjarvis@newsobserver.com March 23, 2012 

— An internal audit of a state program to promote health in minority communities has uncovered suspected misuse of funds, the state Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday.

As a result of the audit, the director of the office that administers the grant money resigned this week, and the matter has been referred to the State Bureau of Investigation.

In addition, the N.C. Division of Public Health has notified organizations around the state that have applied for funding through the program that the current grant process has been terminated. A new round of requests for grant applications will begin within the month, and should conclude in July.

The program in question is the Community Focused Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative, which most recently awarded $2.8 million in grants to 34 agencies in North Carolina. The grants are managed by the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. Its director, Barbara Pullen-Smith, has been replaced by an interim director from another section of DHHS.

The statement released by the state said the audit revealed “irregularities in management, oversight, monitoring and use of state resources.” DHHS spokeswoman Julie Henry said the audit was conducted as the result of a complaint.

Asked whether the irregularities found during the audit involved intentional misuse of money or poor management, Henry said, “The investigation of the audit is continuing. We don’t have all the details.”

Under state law, the department was required to refer the matter to the SBI because of the possible misuse of state funds.

The office was created in 1992 to fund health initiatives for minorities and others who don’t have the same access to health-care as the majority of those who live in the state.

The most recently funded programs include several run by Triangle-based agencies dealing with cancer, diabetes and motor vehicle accidents: Community Health Coalition, El Centro Hispano, El Futuro and Strengthening the Black Family.

A notice on the office’s website says that a four-day conference scheduled for April has been postponed until sometime in the fall.

“Reducing health disparities across North Carolina is too important; we will not allow anything to tarnish this program,” state Health Director Laura Gerald said in a statement. “Our internal audit has identified the issues, and we are taking swift action to stop any further mismanagement or potential mismanagement.”

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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