Health & Family

Mecklenburg withholding county funds from Charlotte health center

Mecklenburg County is withholding its final payment of a $390,000 grant to C.W. Williams Community Health Center after learning the health center is in financial trouble.

County Manager Dena Diorio said this week she is withholding the $97,500 payment because the health center has not responded to the county’s request to see audited financial statements for the fiscal year that ended March 31.

Diorio said a review of previous financial statements, provided by C.W. Williams in an application for the county’s community service grant, “did not reveal issues that would have caused us to recommend ‘no funding.’” But she said the last payment will be held “until we receive and review the latest audited financial statements, which should be in the next month or so.”

Earlier this week, the Observer reported that C.W. Williams, a federally funded clinic that has provided medical care for low-income patients for more than 30 years, recently laid off much of its staff and has experienced cash shortages while under federal supervision.

An official with the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, the agency that provides part of the clinic’s funding, said C.W. Williams has been on “restricted draw down” status since 2006 because of “documented consecutive losses.” The restricted status means C.W. Williams must get federal approval before spending any of its federal grant, the HRSA official said.

In recent days, commissioner Bill James has raised questions about whether the county should continue to fund the health center. “If CW Williams has financial troubles since 2006 why are we continuing to fund them at all and why wouldn’t we have noticed these financial irregularities going back 7 years?” James asked in an email to Diorio and Assistant County Manager Michelle Lancaster.

Center owes Novant

The health center’s 2011 tax form shows that it owed money to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, which lent the center $1.17 million and had asked for repayment at a rate of $17,000 per month. Citing that document, James said it appears that more than half of the county’s grant was used by C.W. Williams to repay Novant.

“It would seem that some of the money given to them wasn’t used as advertised,” he wrote. “Since we didn’t have any restrictions, I am not saying that what they did was illegal, just not what was being advertised as the use.”

According to public records, C.W. Williams received $1.1 million from the federal government in fiscal year 2014. That’s the same year the county gave the center $390,000 as part of an initiative to provide health care to the homeless.

Beverly Irby, who has been executive director in recent years, left that position in October. She was replaced April 1 by Leon Burton, who told the Observer last week that the center has “experienced significant financial issues over the last two or three years,” and that it is “having difficulty in meeting some of our obligations for payroll as well as obligations to vendors.”

Burton said both of the center’s locations, at 3333 Wilkinson Blvd. and the newer one at 900 East Blvd., remain open during normal weekday hours.