Watchdog group to investigate Maine Center for Disease Control, DHHS after accusations made

Posted April 27, 2013, at 6:18 a.m.
State Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston.
State Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston.

Weeks after a Maine Center for Disease Control director accused her bosses of, among other things, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding to favored organizations and harassing her when she refused to destroy documents related to that funding, a watchdog group will investigate.

The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on Friday directed the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to look into how the CDC allocated money last spring to community health organizations known as Healthy Maine Partnerships.

It also will look into alleged problems with management and the workplace culture at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is part of DHHS.

“I am delighted,” said state Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, one of five lawmakers who requested a CDC investigation.

Although the Government Oversight Committee tells OPEGA what issues and projects it should work on, OPEGA is nonpartisan and independent in its investigations.

Committee members considered nearly 20 topics for OPEGA this session. On Friday, they narrowed the list and officially placed five on OPEGA’s work plan.

In addition to the CDC allocation and DHHS workplace issues, OPEGA will analyze the state’s tax expenditure programs to help the Legislature evaluate them, look into DHHS’ audit functions and how capable it is of finding fraud and abuse within the department and look at the Maine Economic Improvement Fund to see how it is working.

No priority was given to the items Friday, so it is unclear when OPEGA will take up the CDC and DHHS issues. OPEGA’s work plan typically is tackled over a two-year period.

Allegations against the CDC arose earlier this month when Sharon Leahy-Lind, director of the CDC’s Division of Local Public Health, sent a complaint of discrimination to the Maine Human Rights Commission alleging, in part, that her bosses ordered her to destroy documents and harassed and assaulted her when she refused. Those documents showed the scoring results for the 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships organizations at the center of last summer’s controversy over state funding. She said the scoring was manipulated to favor certain organizations over others.

Through her lawyer, Leahy-Lind has said the official scoring results posted on the Maine CDC’s website differ from the scoring results she was told to shred.

Those scores determined which organizations got hundreds of thousands of dollars each in state funding.

Craven and Reps. Michael Beaulieu, R-Auburn, Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, Michael McClellan, R-Raymond, and Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston requested a formal OPEGA investigation into the CDC a couple of weeks ago. Craven is a member of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee and is also on the board of Healthy Androscoggin, one of the Healthy Maine Partnerships organizations that lost a substantial amount of funding.

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