Health & Family

CW Williams health center hasn’t met conditions for bailout

Despite providing a belated audit to Mecklenburg County commissioners, the financially beleaguered C.W. Williams Community Health Center still appears unlikely to qualify for the county’s one-time bailout offer of $390,000.

In October, the county received the health center’s audit for the fiscal year that ended March 31. It showed a negative net worth of $1.6 million.

C.W. Williams has not complied with other conditions that commissioners placed on the bailout offer, and commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller, who has said it would be “a shame” to let the community clinic fail, said he is beginning to lose hope.

“It’s a very depressing situation,” Fuller said Tuesday. “It doesn’t lead me to be confident about where we’re heading. Maybe they are still working on it, and it’s just taking a long time. … I just don’t know what’s going on over there.”

C.W. Williams, which receives half its funding from federal grants, has provided medical care for low-income patients for more than 30 years. Since January, its staff has been cut by about half through layoffs or attrition. In August, the satellite location on East Boulevard closed, and the longtime Wilkinson Boulevard location reduced hours from five to three days a week.

The latest audit “noted continued significant internal control deficiencies as well as the continued increase of the center’s net operating losses,” said Wanda Reeves, director of the county’s financial services department, in an email to commissioners.

The commissioners set other conditions for the bailout. They include: Find a nonprofit partner to help pay off liabilities, restructure to ensure long-term sustainability, and seat a county finance employee on the board of directors.

Earlier this year, Fuller said he knew of a community “partner” willing to help C.W. Williams. But he said Tuesday that he thought “something would have happened by now.”

County Manager Dena Diorio said C.W. Williams has been in “discussion with one of the hospital systems, but I don’t get a sense that it’s gone very far. ... They need a partner. They can’t survive without one.”

Leon Burton, who took over as C.W. Williams’ executive director in April, wasn’t available Tuesday. In September, he told the Observer the center has implemented a “plan of action ... to sustain operations.” But he declined to be more specific.

In its 2009 audit, the health center’s accounting firm, Petway Mills & Pearson of Zebulon, referred to “significant operating losses in recent years” that raised “substantial doubt about the health center’s ability to continue as an ongoing concern.”

The latest report outlined multiple problems. “The center’s books are not properly maintained,” the audit said, adding that the person in charge of finances had “inadequate skills to perform financial operations.”

Commissioner Bill James said he hopes the new audit removes any plan of bailing out C.W. Williams, “given the serious problems with how they manage cash or spend money.”

Since 2007, C.W. Williams had received grants from the county to care for homeless patients. But last summer, given the lack of a current audit, Diorio recommended against continuing that grant for fiscal 2015. Instead, commissioners gave a grant of $270,919 for homeless patient care to Charlotte Community Health Clinic, a free clinic in north Mecklenburg.

C.W. Williams is the only federally qualified health center in Mecklenburg and one of 32 in the state. Since 2006, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, which provides part of the clinic’s funding, has placed C.W. Williams on a “restricted draw down” because of “documented consecutive losses.” The restricted status means the center must get approval before spending any of its federal grant.

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