State health agency spending relatively little from emergency covid funds

May 15, 2020

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

Since lawmakers in March approved $45 million in emergency funding for the state health department’s response to the coronavirus, the agency has spent less than 10 percent of the total, records show.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control through April listed a total of about $3.9 million in expenditures, with another nearly $5.4 million in “encumbered” or projected expenses, according to the agency’s latest monthly report.

The reports, which are posted on the state Department of Administration’s website, don’t provide specifics on the actual or proposed expenditures, other than listing general spending categories. Of the approximately $3.9 million in listed expenditures as of May 1, $3.7 million was for unspecified “supplies.”

Records released this week by DHEC to The Nerve under the state Freedom of Information Act show that the agency through April 21 spent a total of $2 million of the $45 million appropriated by lawmakers in mid-March, with another nearly $9 million in listed “encumbrances.”

In a spreadsheet, DHEC defined encumbrances as the “estimated dollar amount on a purchase order,” noting, for example, that the agency has multiple purchase orders with hotels in the state for the possible housing of indigent patients.

The Nerve’s review found more than 120 identified vendors through April 21, including hotels and restaurants; television and radio stations; video and marketing firms; and medical supply, construction and cleaning businesses.

The Nerve on Wednesday sent written follow-up questions to DHEC seeking, among other things, details on the purposes of the largest amounts of actual or projected expenses. No response was provided by publication of this story.

Of the $2 million in listed expenditures, nearly $1.1 million went to Downstream Recycling near Moncks Corner, while $753,300 was paid to Mt. Pleasant-based BTM Machinery, DHEC records show. According to an online business site, Downstream Recycling “primarily operates in the Recycling, Waste Materials business/industry within the Electric, Gas and Sanitary Services sector.”

It’s not clear what services that Downstream performed for DHEC.

BTM on its website describes itself as a “worldwide seller of used heavy construction equipment.” The state procurement database lists BTM as providing “washing equipment for face masks, etc.”

The five-largest projected expenses for construction-related or medical services/supply businesses as of April 21 included, according to DHEC records:

  • Dynamic Construction Group, Baton Rouge, La.: $3,193,290. The company on its website says it specializes in “governmental construction, project management and disaster recovery services.”
  • Applya Occupational Strategies, Greenville: $2,565,000. The company on its website describes itself as a “one-stop shop” for business “health needs,” including physical exams, drug testing, vaccinations and “respiratory medical clearance.”
  • BTM Machinery: $444,050 (in addition to $753,300 in listed expenditures).
  • Downstream Recycling: $406,040 (in addition to $1,088,100 in listed expenditures).
  • Fisher Scientific Company, Pittsburgh: $210,789. The company on its website lists a number of products, including safety, gloves, glasses and cleaning; “antibodies” and “protein biology”; and testing and filtration.

The Nerve’s review of DHEC records also found at least four listed cleaning companies, including Commercial & Industrial Cleaning Management, Spartanburg; Rainbow International, Chapin; RNR Inc., Irmo; and Servpro, Columbia. Rainbow, RNR and Servpro had listed projected expenses of $108,000 each.

RNR Inc. is commonly known as Duraclean Professional Services. S.C. Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Lexington, is director of business development at the company’s Irmo office, according to his legislative biography and other online records.

Contacted Friday, Huggins said the company hasn’t been awarded an emergency contract from DHEC or received any of the appropriated $45 million in emergency funding. He also said he doesn’t own the business, which he noted is a state-approved vendor; and that he played no role in DHEC’s selection of the company as a potential vendor.

Besides cleaning companies, DHEC also listed a total of at least $1.2 million in projected expenses for more than 30 in- or out-of-state media or marketing companies, including $201,086 for Minnesota-based AllOver Media and $181,440 for New York-based Look Media. Fifteen radio or television stations in or out of South Carolina were identified.

In a March 15 letter to Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, DHEC director Rick Toomey gave the following breakdown of the $45 million approved by lawmakers:

  • $14.8 million: Personal protective equipment (PPE) for DHEC workers to “prevent spread of infection.”
  • $14.5 million: Additional DHEC staffing to support disease surveillance and contact investigation, laboratory testing, and information phone lines.
  • $5.2 million: Staff support, including technology, lab supplies and reagents (substances used to cause chemical reactions), travel, and facility cleaning.
  • $5 million: Contingency costs – a built-in approximately 10% for “unanticipated costs or changing assumptions based on disease spread.”
  • $2.5 million: Education campaign – support for TV/radio airtime and printed materials.
  • $1.7 million: Cost to quarantine and support indigent patients.
  • $1.3 million: Cost to courier lab samples and distribution of items from the Strategic National Stockpile.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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