December 1st, 2013

VT mental health agencies to be audited

While they are not suspected of any wrongdoing or failures, the mental health agencies of the state of Vermont will be under the microscope in the coming months. In September, the Vermont state auditor’s office announced it will run an audit of the state’s designated agencies (DAs), the community mental health and developmental disability organizations contracted by the Vermont Department of Mental Health (DMH).

State Auditor Doug Hoffer announced the plan to inspect the agencies as one of four new audits being initiated. The office will also look at the Sex Offender Registry to ensure it is being kept current and that recommendations from their 2010 report were implemented as well as the Department of Liquor Control and the state’s energy plan. Each of the audits fall under the office’s mandate to conduct performance audits to ensure the state government is held accountable and that taxpayer funds are used effectively.

“There is no reason to believe that there is a problem,” says Hoffer, “but when we are spending $300 million you might as well take a look. There is no bidding on these contracts and these agencies have never been audited by this office.”

The DMH has contracted with 13 local agencies to act as DAs, to ensure that mental health services are readily available throughout the state. Each agency covers a geographic region of Vermont under a mental health care system that has seen major revisions following the 120-year-old Vermont State Hospital flooding by Hurricane Irene in 2011. As DMH Commissioner Paul Dupre points out, the amount of change the system has undergone makes this an area ripe for audit.

“I am not surprised that they would choose to do an audit,” says Dupre, who took over the helm of the DMH earlier this year after serving as executive director of the Washington County Mental Health Services, one of the state’s DAs. “We had major changes since the flood in how we are providing services and how we do our contracts. I come from a non-profit agency and we were audited every year. This is standard procedure.”

The Auditor’s office will spend four to eight months doing a risk assessment, interviewing and detailing their findings in a report expected to be released within 12 months. As Hoffer explains, the focus of the audit is not on the financial end, although finances are certainly involved in how services are provided, but rather on how the requirements of the grant agreements are being enforced by the DMH and met by the DAs.

Hoffer says they’ll determine how the state is maintaining the contract and if the agencies are meeting requirements.

Neither the auditor’s office nor the DMH expects the audit to turn up serious issues. Still, the report will be examined closely by the state and by the designated agencies for areas where adjustments can be made.

By Catherine Robertson Souter

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