• May 30, 2024

Health department audit reports missing ventilators; auditors get pandemic relief documents 2023

The Legislature’s auditors reported this week that the state health agency failed to track ventilators loaned to hospitals during the first 16 months of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Republican legislators accused the Department of Administration of withholding records from auditors last year in a separate pandemic-related audit.

The Legislative Audit Bureau study on DHS pandemic relief spending indicated that six of 1,542 ventilators purchased and leased to hospitals remained unaccounted for as of January 2023.

DHS failed to document at least 10 pandemic relief grant recipients in long-term care and emergency medical services. The audit bureau also criticized the agency for not completing an internal audit of pandemic relief fund spending.

Wednesday’s report. DHS Secretary-designate Kirsten Johnson said that the department agreed with auditors’ suggestions to strengthen processes. She also defended the agency’s pandemic response.

The GOP co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee released new Department of Administration records to the audit bureau on Thursday and criticized the department for not providing them for a 2022 review of pandemic relief programs.

The department secretary denied suppressing data and said the auditors’ request prompted the previous answer.

In a December 2022 report, the audit bureau found inadequate information on how Gov. Tony Evers’ administration distributed the $5.7 billion Wisconsin got from the federal government in three pandemic relief measures adopted in 2020 and 2021. The auditors urged authorities to document decision-making processes.

The December report claimed the agency did not disclose agendas and minutes of meetings where distribution choices were made and other internal documentation despite auditors’ requests for nine of the state’s pandemic relief programs distributing $412.6 million.

“The policy underpinnings and needs for programs and investments the Governor chose to fund” were explored in memoranda and other materials provided by the department, according to secretary-designate Kathy Blumenfeld.

On Thursday, the audit committee co-chairs, Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) and Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine), stated that an open records request from the office of Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostberg) “asking for the same information” as the auditors had yielded “nearly 300 pages of documents” from the department. They said the audit bureau investigated the newly provided papers.

“I’m frustrated by the lack of response to very specific questions about how the DOA made supplemental funding decisions and who was involved,” Wittke said in the joint statement.

Blumenfeld noted that LeMahieu’s request “was broader and more comprehensive in scope than the Legislative Audit Bureau’s request for records and information” for the December 2022 report. LeMahieu requested “specific records for the nine programs reviewed” in the audit bureau report, “including emails.”

Blumenfeld noted that the department did not understand the previous audit bureau request as demanding or needing thorough email searches (an undertaking that requires substantial time and resources to perform), as is required by the public records law.

Her letter included the facts and papers she said were in the original answer to the audit bureau’s request.

Leave a Reply