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SBI probes misuse of money at state agency

Posted March 23, 2012 4:22 p.m. EDT
Updated March 23, 2012 6:03 p.m. EDT

— The state Division of Public Health has shuffled staff and suspended a grant program after an internal audit found mismanagement of money in the program, officials said Friday.

The case has been turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

The audit found a conflict of interest in the disbursement of funds and irregularities in management, oversight, monitoring and use of state resources allocated to the Community Focused Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative. The program awards grants to community groups for education and prevention efforts to improve health outcomes in under-served and minority populations.

“We are committed to protecting the integrity of this program and maintaining the public’s trust in our ability to administer programs that provide critical services to the people of North Carolina,” Acting Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Al Delia said in a statement.

The CFEHDI program, which is overseen by the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, was responsible for $2.8 million in grants to 34 agencies in the fiscal year that ended last June.

Office Director Barbara Pullen-Smith resigned this week, as did program consultant George Hill. Neither could be reached for comment Friday.

Officials said an interim director has been appointed, and the current grant application process has been ended. The process will be resumed after the investigation is complete.

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