By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — A state review of the Cumberland Valley District Health Department found poor oversight and questionable spending, and it slammed the former executive director for interfering with a state investigation.
State Auditor Adam Edelen released the 57-page review of the health department’s management practices Friday. The department serves Clay, Jackson, Rockcastle and Harlan counties.
In its review, state auditors found that the department’s director of nursing received state pay on days when she was teaching at Berea College nearly all day. The report also outlined several questionable spending practices by the department, including using state-issued credit cards meant for overnight travel on iPhones for employees.
The department also had 15 Wal-Mart credit cards that were used to buy gift cards, which allegedly were used as prizes at public health events.
Stephenie Steitzer, a spokeswoman for Edelen, said the review was not forwarded to any law enforcement officials. Edelen’s office conducted a review of the department after receiving complaints about the management and fiscal oversight of the agency.
Edelen also blasted the former executive director for her unprofessional conduct during the course of the auditor’s investigation. The report does not name Kathy Fields, but it says the former director repeatedly asked state auditors for confidential information, including who had complained to the auditor’s office about problems at the department.
“Attempting to hinder the work of the auditor’s office will not be tolerated,” Edelen said. “I am encouraged the board has already taken steps to remedy this situation, and I hope it considers the recommendations outlined in this review to clean up the department.”
Fields was placed on administrative leave by the Cumberland Valley District Health Department board earlier this month, according to an Aug. 8 report by WYMT-TV. An interim executive director has been named.
Board members contacted Friday referred questions to board chairman John Parsons, who could not be reached for comment.
In its response to the auditor’s findings, the board said it would follow much of the auditors’ recommendations, including hiring an attorney. Auditors found that the all-volunteer board did not have a lawyer who could advise them on how to handle personnel matters, including grievances from disgruntled employees.
The board agreed to set up a grievance process and will step up oversight of day-to-day expenditures of the district and hire an accountant. In its written response to auditors, the board said that it asked Fields to evaluate her management style in January 2012 and asked her to set up a grievance committee. Fields did not set up the grievance committee because of budget cuts, the board said.
Fields could not be located for comment.
“Again, it is very difficult for the chairman of the board and the board itself to exercise control over (health department) management,” the board’s response said. “There has to be honesty from management team to the board and that does not exist.”
The health department is run by a board that includes county officials from its service area and medical professionals. The health department receives a combination of state, county and federal money for its operations, which include environmental regulation and health services.