After roughly one year and some $17,000 in costs, an audit of the West Volusia Hospital Authority conducted by the Florida Auditor General has turned up little. It shed some light on internal operational practices that could be improved, but the Auditor General’s report did not yield a smoking gun suggesting fraud or corruption.
“Nothing is saying there is fraud that was found,” the Hospital Authority’s accountant, CPA Ron Cantlay, said. “There is nothing saying there was massive noncompliance with any of our rules or anything like that.”
The audit had been called for by Lake County state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, at the request of former West Volusia Hospital Authority Board Member Brian Soukup. The men said they were concerned about the Hospital Authority’s transparency and spendings.
But attorney Tanner Andrews, a longtime observer of the Hospital Authority board said all the audit really did was waste taxpayer dollars.
“The closest the auditor came to noting anything was that the previous pharmacy provider had some problems,” Andrews said, referring to Northeast Florida Health Services Inc. dba Family Health Source, the pharmacy company the WVHA used to partner with. “The authority identified that, too, which is why they sacked them.”
Andrews said he hoped the audit would not be used as a political cudgel by Sabatini.
The preliminary findings of the audit showed no indications of financial wrongdoing, but it did have some suggestions for improving transparency, especially after auditors failed to obtain health records that the agency Rising Against All Odds said it cannot share because to do so would violate medical-privacy laws.
Rising Against All Odds
The Auditor General’s Office said Rising Against All Odds, a DeLand-based agency that offers HIV testing and other services for indigent people, imposed “significant” barriers to completing the audit. Removing those barriers, RAAO lawyer William Dillon of Gunster Law said, would have broken the law.
‘Everyone should get tested’ — According to the CDC, one in seven HIV-positive people are unaware they have it. With free HIV screening available at Rising Against All Odds, HIV Program Director John Dalley said it is always a good time to get tested for the sexually transmitted infection. The agency’s building on South Woodland Boulevard is shown in the photo here.
Dillon said state law is very stringent about sharing HIV-testing information.
“… the Auditor General seems to imply that RAAO somehow impeded the Auditor General’s authority. With all due respect to the Auditor General, we disagree,” Dillon wrote in a letter to the Hospital Authority. “Accordingly, we believe it would have been a violation of applicable law for RAAO to supply the Auditor General the [protected health information] it requested.”
Hospital Authority Chair Jennifer Coen, on behalf of the WVHA, said the board would work toward better satisfying the Auditor General’s suggestions on most topics, but that the board did not believe RAAO was in the wrong for not disclosing patient information.
Other findings the Auditor General’s office identified included:
A recommendation that the Hospital Authority provide additional budget information for past years during budget meetings.
A recommendation that the Hospital Authority keep less cash on hand.
The Auditor General’s Office also noted that the 2019 removal of Brian Soukup from the Citizens Advisory Committee was not noticed ahead of the meeting when a vote was taken by the board, limiting the public’s opportunity to comment.
For most of the financial and operational recommendations, Hospital Authority Chair Jennifer Coen responded to the Auditor General’s Office that the authority would accept its recommendations and work toward better transparency. In regard to Soukup’s 2019 removal, she noted it was an “isolated incident.”
“At times, due to last-minute events leading up to a board meeting, the agendas are amended at the start of the Board meeting. … WVHA exercised its discretion to make a last-minute amendment and took immediate action it deemed necessary to restore good order and decorum in the overall functioning of the CAC,” Coen wrote.
While Coen was not on the Hospital Authority board when Soukup was removed from the Citizens Advisory Committee, she referenced multiple incidents he was involved in, including an alleged violation of Florida’s Sunshine Laws by way of an email sent to multiple board members.
Soukup also repeatedly questioned the citizenship status of WVHA Health Card recipients and made other statements some members of the CAC found to be inappropriate.
He was removed from the CAC by a 3-2 vote in June 2019. He later served on the Hospital Authority board and resigned from his position one year into his two-year term.