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Audit woes dim bailout chance for C.W. Williams center

Chances that C.W. Williams Community Health Center on Wilkinson Boulevard will get a county bailout are dim if a letter from the center’s accounting firm is any indication.

In response to questions from Mecklenburg commissioners, Zebulon accounting firm Petway Mills & Pearson said the federally funded health center’s finances cannot be audited “until the books are complete and accurate.”

Commissioners recently approved a $390,000 one-time appropriation for the financially struggling health center, but only if it could meet certain conditions, including providing a financial audit for the fiscal year ending March 31 and find a “partner” to help pay off outstanding liabilities.

In the letter to commissioners, accountant Phyllis Pearson said C.W. Williams installed a new accounting system in 2013 and that the “process has not gone well.” She said the center’s “significant cash flow problems” resulted in part from delayed Medicaid reimbursements because of problems with the state’s computer system, NC Fast.

Commissioner Bill James said the letter suggests “C.W. Williams has known about this failed accounting problem for years and didn’t say a word.” Without an audit, he said, “no money will be coming from the county.”

Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller said recently he’s aware there is a partner willing to help C.W. Williams. “I'm not at liberty to say who it is,” he said. “It's gonna be tough love. … I’m convinced they cannot alone pull themselves out of this. I’ve heard they’re anywhere from $1 million to $2 million in the hole. I also know they haven’t paid staff in about a month. It's really bad.”

The health center was founded in 1981 and named for Dr. Charles Warren Williams, who in 1961 became the first African-American on the staff of Charlotte Memorial Hospital (now Carolinas Medical Center). Fuller said he’s been told by a retired Charlotte physician that Williams “would be turning over in his grave to have his name associated with anything like this stuff.”

Since the beginning of the year, the health center has lost about half its staff through layoffs or attrition, and it has struggled to remain open for its 10,000 low-income patients. A new executive director, Leon Burton, who took over in April, has declined to comment.

Garloch: 704-358-5078
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