Minnesota Department of Health audit finds general compliance, with some issues

The department doesn't agree with all findings.

Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Health.
Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Health, provides an update on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference on Monday, May 4, 2020, in St. Paul.
Scott Takushi | Pioneer Press via AP, Pool

A new report out Wednesday from the Office of the Legislative Auditor found that the state health department “generally had adequate internal controls to ensure compliance” with legal requirements related to COVID-19 grants. 

However, the office said the Minnesota Department of Health did fall short in some areas, like documentation. The report found MDH “did not comply" with state requirements to document and retain conflict of interest disclosures. It also did not always document how it evaluated grant applications, or how it complied with state requirements when awarding grants. 

MDH has disputed some of those issues, saying that they did provide documentation, just not always in the way that OLA wanted. In part because it was the early days of the pandemic and the office was attempting to rapidly move to online work. 

“We were literally going overnight from office-based work to remote work, everything moving to electronic documentation instantaneously,” said state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “There was documentation, just perhaps not in the form that they would have liked to see it.” 

For example, in a written response to issues around documenting how MDH evaluated applications, Malcolm said: “Each layer of review was documented and made available to your staff. Your office appears to have been looking for documentation in a single form. If the department had tried to document all decisions in a single form, it would have obfuscated the department’s multiple layers of review and significantly delayed the review process.”

Despite that, Malcolm said the department has already improved their documentation procedures as they’ve continued to work in a remote environment.

Other issues highlighted in the report relate to financial reconciliations and collecting advanced funds unspent by the grantee. 

Malcolm said they’re actively working on financial reconciliation for those grants and will then collect the unspent funds, and that they are “in compliance with the grant contract and with state law.” MDH expects this work to be done by the end of October. 

“I think the main findings of the report — their lead sentence there — is that they found no evidence that any grant dollars were misspent or awarded inappropriately during a very chaotic point in time,” Malcolm said. “And I think it's a really strong and positive finding in that regard that the auditor found that we do have internal controls, and we did comply with legal requirements.”

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