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Originally published Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 10:22 AM

Auditor: State paid UW for health services never delivered

The state Department of Social and Health Services paid the University of Washington more than $24,000 for health services that the UW never delivered, a state auditor's report has found.

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The state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) paid the University of Washington more than $24,000 for health services that the UW never delivered, a state auditor's report has found.

But UW officials say they don't agree with the findings of the audit, which was prompted by a November 2009 tip from a state whistle-blower.

The audit examined DSHS, rather than the UW, because it was a DSHS contract, said state Auditor Brian Sonntag. "But the university has a hand to play here as well," he said.

Sonntag said the audit's results have led him to wonder if there are other areas at the university that need to be examined. "If there is a breakdown in contract monitoring in funds in this university, where else do you look?" he asked.

At issue is a contract between the UW's School of Public Health and DSHS to develop and provide a health program for residents of the McNeil Island Special Commitment Center for sexually violent offenders.

According to the auditor's report, the UW was to assess residents' health and social needs as well as risk factors for disease, and figure out what treatment was needed. The UW was also under contract to assess the residents' educational needs and evaluate the center's current health program.

According to the auditor's report, the only service the UW ever delivered was a set of PowerPoint handouts that had been prepared for another agency and relabeled for the Special Commitment Center.

But UW officials say they disagree with that finding. "We are in discussions to determine how much work was actually performed," said Tina Mankowski, a spokeswoman for the UW School of Public Health.

The UW began submitting invoices to the Special Commitment Center beginning in April 2008 and continued to do so for about a year, according to the audit. The center paid the UW a total of $24,070, then stopped paying the bills in September 2009 and notified the UW that it would not pay because the UW was not delivering the work it had promised under the contract.

According to the auditor's report, the UW sent DSHS a letter in October 2009 saying it could not fulfill the contract because "the residents would need basic health education before he [the UW] could do the survey work."

The auditor's report concluded that there was a lack of oversight at the Special Commitment Center and that the agency should work with the UW to determine what portion of the $24,070 should be recovered.

The Special Commitment Center employee who oversees contracts has received "corrective performance counseling" and is scheduled for additional training, according to the audit report.

Sonntag said the state Auditor's Office is continually auditing departments at the UW, but "We can't look at everything every year. Maybe this is an area we focus on next year, in our audit plan."

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com

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