Dear friends and neighbors,
This month my office released an audit report on COVID-19 contact tracing, a report on the status of recommendations from our 2019 audit of community mental health, and a hotline report on waste related to the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
As we finalized those reports for you, we also took time for our first in-person work retreat since 2020. We spent a lot of time laying the groundwork for how we can improve our engagement with county communities and deepen our commitment to auditing that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion. I came away from the retreat more energized than ever to speak truth to power on your behalf, and feeling extremely grateful for the incredibly smart and talented team with whom I serve.
COVID-19 Contact Tracing Audit
Our audit of contact tracing was the final audit report in a series of audits we conducted on the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For this audit, we examined case investigation, contact tracing, outbreak investigation, and support services for isolation and quarantine, from the start of the pandemic through January 2022.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, case numbers frequently surged in waves, like the Delta wave. As case numbers rose higher, Multnomah County Public Health reached a smaller proportion of people with reported positive tests through contact tracing and case investigation. Contact tracing is less effective when a disease is widespread, and the county eventually discontinued the practice for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not reaching people with reported cases and contacts created a bottleneck for people to receive critical financial assistance to help them isolate while sick. The county provides rent/mortgage, utility, and grocery assistance through culturally-specific providers for people who need to isolate or quarantine. While the county and its partners delivered essential services, with more collaboration than in the past, services were not always well advertised and relied on people being contacted by Public Health, making many phone calls, or hearing about it through word of mouth.
Even though case investigation and contact tracing have now ended, the experiences of this team can be instructive for future emergencies. With the future in mind, we made seven recommendations for improving oversight of support services, building on work with community partners, and preparing for future emergencies.
Hotline tip identified Joint Office’s approval of over $500,000 of unallowable expenses
Through my office’s Good Government Hotline, we received a report regarding a provider under contract with the Joint Office of Homeless Services (Joint Office) to provide emergency shelter to community members. Through our investigation, we identified waste of government resources due to inadequate oversight by the Joint Office. For example, the Joint Office had approved more than $525,000 in unallowable costs due to ineffective contract management. Our investigation caught these unallowable costs, and we notified management, who then worked with the vendor to make corrections. The county ultimately recouped the costs.
We made four recommendations to the county and the Joint Office, to improve quality and accuracy in invoice processing, and to ensure accountability with regard to contract management.
Update on Proposed Charter Amendments for the Auditor’s Office
The Multnomah County Charter Review Committee met for the last time on July 20 and voted to present the following to voters in November:
- Establishment of an ombudsperson in the Auditor’s Office
- Ensuring the Auditor’s access to information
I am beyond excited that voters will be able to weigh in on these amendments in November, but I am disappointed that the committee decided that voters will not get the opportunity to vote on whether they would like to have a waste, inefficiency, and abuse hotline in the County Charter.
Based on my prior experience with trying to develop County Code about the hotline, I believe having the hotline in Charter is the best way to ensure that:
- the hotline is operated in alignment with the state’s Local Government Waste Hotlines law.
- you will learn about substantiated investigations.
But because the committee did not advance the hotline amendment to voters, I am prepared to work with the Chair and County Attorney to create Code for the hotline - as long as the Code faithfully complies with the state’s law for Local Government Waste Hotlines and does not change the existing practices of my office’s hotline.
I am grateful to the Charter Review Committee’s members for their intensive service to Multnomah County’s people.