AUGUSTA — A state investigation has concluded that supervisors at the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered their staff to destroy documents related to the redistribution of healthy community coalition state funding last year.

In June 2012, over a two-week period after the state budget was enacted, the CDC surveyed Maine’s 27 Healthy Maine Partnership organizations and then ranked the agencies to reestablish funding levels and reassign which of the community coalitions would be considered “lead” agencies.

Androscoggin County’s Healthy Androscoggin in Lewiston, the largest HMP in the western district, saw its funding cut from $313,000 to $120,000 — a 64 percent decrease. Healthy River Valley in Rumford was named the lead agency for the district and saw its funding increased.

Public questions quickly arose about the process CDC used, according to the report, and legislators from Lewiston and Auburn sought an explanation from DHHS. In addition, the Sun Journal submitted a Freedom of Access Act request seeking documents supporting CDC’s decisions; the full scope of that request was never complied with because requested documents could not be found. 

These questions, coupled with a Sun Journal report of accusations by a former CDC agency director that she had been ordered to shred public documents used to set the new funding levels, prompted a request by the Government Oversight Committee for an investigation by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability of the Legislature.

The report of that investigation was released Thursday, and has concluded that CDC staff were ordered by their supervisors to destroy documents.

And, investigators found, CDC “ended up developing some documents in response to FOAA requests because relevant documentation had not been maintained.”

According to the report, the staffers were told by their supervisors “only the final product should remain at the end of the process, not the working documents.”

CDC managers, who are not named in the report, told OPEGA “they believed the instruction or advice to destroy documentation may have resulted from a desire for version control, or to keep survey responses confidential,” and managers denied any intention to cover up.

The two employees who were asked to destroy documents, who are also not named in the report, did not follow through and, according to the OPEGA report, OPEGA obtained and reviewed the documents supervisors had asked to be shredded, and “several observations from this report were made possible based on documentation” the employees retained.

The investigation also found that the methodology used by the CDC to determine healthy coalition funding was flawed, unorganized and not well documented, and that the criteria changed multiple times during the scoring process, which is contrary to standard practice under the RFP process.

The funding distributed to the healthy coalitions is primarily supported by the Fund for a Healthy Maine, using tobacco settlement and other funds, and administered through the Healthy Maine Partnerships under the authorization of the Department of Health and Human Services’ CDC. The Healthy Maine Partnerships, or HMPs, are a collection of 27 agencies that supervise a community-based approach to public health improvements in schools and at work, including smoking cessation, nutrition and fitness programs.

Before the funding distribution was adjusted, CDC surveyed its workers who dealt with the HMPs as part of its process to evaluate and score programs. According to the OPEGA report, the project officers and district liaisons who were surveyed were “intentionally not informed of the true purpose of the survey or how their ratings would be used.”

The CDC “had opportunity to manipulate the outcome” in the central district, according to the report, and the survey process used in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties was a departure from the overall process.

Although, according to the OPEGA report, when it re-evaluated the western district surveys, the outcome naming Healthy River Valley as the lead agency remained unchanged.

The report also found that the contract for the tribal district’s healthy community coalition was handled differently than other district coalitions, specifically that the $500,000 contract awarded to the tribal district was done as a sole source non-bid contract and that it was developed outside the parameters used by other healthy community coalitions.

In 2012, the tribal district received $370,000 in state funding. Under the revised funding formula, it received $597,941 in 2013, or an increase of $227,941. Only three other districts received any increase, and the next largest was $64,509, for the Greater Somerset Public Health Collaborative.

According to the report, the Wabanaki District contract was developed by the Office of Health Equity, and was signed by the office director, “despite the fact that the director of that office had been unsure who developed” the contract.

Sen. Margaret Craven, a member of the Government Oversight Committee, said “changing numbers of manipulate specific outcomes is dishonest,” noting that “this level of mismanagement of public dollars is becoming the status quo under this administration.”

Sen. Emily Cain, who co-chairs the oversight committee, said “it’s clear the CDC didn’t use common sense let alone standard contracting procedures when they adjusted the HMP contracts.”

And, she said, “there’s no paper trail and no documentation to show whether or not their actions were appropriate. The lack of transparency and documentation is concerning.”

Craven said the committee would continue to review the report, including seeking public input, when it next meets in January.

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, in a department response to OPEGA which was included in the report, said “the department appreciates the gravity of the issues raised.”

The commissioner acknowledged the process would have “benefited from additional expertise in the area of survey methodology and quality control,” but that wasn’t possible under the tight time constraints DHHS faced to “create a process to de-appropriate funds.”

Mayhew also said that, as part of the department’s commitment to handling documentation in an “accountable and transparent manner,” DHHS is working with the Maine State Archives office to review and update its records management policies and practices.

This story was edited at 11:15 a.m. Dec. 16 to clarify funding in the western Maine HMP district and to correct who the CDC surveyed in its HMP decision process.

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