An audio version of this report.
The Fulton County Commission ordered a full audit of the county health department Wednesday.
The move comes after a WABE investigation found millions of dollars set aside for HIV prevention went unspent.
To help stop the spread of HIV in metro Atlanta, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given Fulton County over $20 million since 2012. But WABE found that the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness gave back between $7 and $8.7 million of those funds because the department didn’t spend all of the grant money.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Fulton Commission Chairman John Eaves admonished county health department director Dr. Patrice Harris.
“It’s beyond me why this board was never informed about this large amount of money not being utilized,” Eaves said.
Harris took partial responsibility for the problem, but also cited issues with hiring and county bureaucracy.
“It’s unacceptable to send any dollars back. As you know, we have the HIV/AIDS problem here in Fulton and DeKalb counties,” she said.
But Eaves interrupted.
He, and other county commissioners, seemed unsatisfied with Harris’ answers. So much so, they voted unanimously for County Auditor Anthony Nicks to do a top-to-bottom investigation of the entire health department.
The county did not give a timeline for the audit, but Thursday issued the following statement:
The health of Fulton County citizens is one of the top priorities of Fulton County Government. The need for HIV prevention resources is greatly needed, and we are grateful for the CDC’s support and are on track to spend all grant funds this year.
Major grants take a great deal of initial investment of start-up time, including time to recruit and hire personnel and establish procurement documents, timelines, and more. We have also identified a top-to-bottom policy review as a priority for Fulton County to ensure that our policies support, rather than restrict, our ability to achieve our core mission. In addition, we are working to achieve best practices in grant management through a shared services model.
In terms of managing this specific grant, we have already implemented a number of changes, including updating our staffing structure. Some of this effort, as well as restrictive internal policies, led to some lags. We have met with the CDC to identify a number of opportunities. As a result, we will be funding more health care testing sites. We are also looking at other funding models by other major federal grants, including the State of New York and our local Ryan White program.
We have also requested a continuation of funds from the CDC which may result in some restored funding.