Arkansas Health Department Investigating AIDS Division for Possible Mismanagement of Federal Funds
The Arkansas Department of Health is investigating its AIDS division to determine whether some of the $8.2 million it receives in federal funding for medications and other services was mismanaged by division employees, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. The investigation -- prompted by questions from the Democrat-Gazette about a travel account audit that inappropriately paid four employees more than $17,000 without full receipt documentation -- already has caused the group to make staff changes and tighten policy. The health department on Wednesday terminated the contract of one organization that received federal funding because the group could not account for $53,592 of its program expenses, the Democrat-Gazette reports. In addition, a Democrat-Gazette review of the division's spending found that a health department employee who coordinated the disbursement of most of the division's grant money provided funding to two organizations that employed her husband. Arkansas law forbids state employees from using their positions "to secure special privileges" for their spouses, the Democrat-Gazette reports. The department also is investigating an increase in funding going to organizations that could not document their work. Health officials blame a "gap" in the department's grant monitoring for failing to notice problems, according to the Democrat-Gazette (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 10/7).
The investigation comes amid budget shortfalls that led the health department to lay off nurses and nurses' aides and eliminate vacant positions in local health care units. Furthermore, the Arkansas AIDS Drug Assistance Program -- a federal- and state-funded program that provides HIV/AIDS-related medications to low-income, uninsured and underinsured HIV-positive individuals -- has instituted a waiting list (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/16). "Our public trust of the health department that handles our money is just gone," Eric Camp, public policy director for Positive Voices -- a not-for-profit HIV/AIDS advocacy group -- said. However, Rick Hogan, the health department's chief counsel, said, "I believe it's an aberration, and I believe we'll fix it," adding, "And I hope we can get the confidence back of the people we're here to help" (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 10/7).