The Fulton County health director who oversaw the county's squandering of millions of dollars in HIV prevention funding is out, retiring after facing intense scrutiny in the wake of reports detailing the program's failures.
Dr. Patrice Harris, director of the county's health department, quietly announced her retirement – effective at the end of the year – last week, according to the AJC. Her announcement makes no mention of a WABE investigation in early June that discovered the health department returned $8.7 million in HIV prevention funds granted by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – nearly 45 percent of its budget since 2012.
That investigation prompted outrage from Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves and an audit by the county manager. In a commission meeting after the WABE report, Eaves criticized Harris.
“It’s beyond me why this board was never informed about this large amount of money not being utilized,” Eaves said.
Harris took partial responsibility for the problem, but also cited issues with hiring and county bureaucracy.
“It’s unacceptable to send any dollars back. As you know, we have the HIV/AIDS problem here in Fulton and DeKalb counties,” she said.
But Eaves interrupted.
He, and other county commissioners, seemed unsatisfied with Harris' answers. So much so, they voted unanimously for County Auditor Anthony Nicks to do a top-to-bottom investigation of the entire health department.
County Manager Dick Anderson said he would make a decision about whether the funding flap would cost Harris her job after completion of the audit. The county convinced federal health officials to return some $3.4 million. But on Sunday, the AJC uncovered even more details of how ineptly the HIV prevention programs are run in a metro region with one of the highest HIV rates in the nation.
But efforts sputtered from the start, at times for reasons that strained common sense. At one point, hiring ground to a halt because the program staffers thought they were constrained under a county government hiring freeze.
Eaves found that reason absurd, since the money was federal, not county funds.
The reviews of the HIV program uncovered systemic problems that could hamper other grants, officials said. For example, staffers found the county’s system of soliciting proposals from community groups to be time-consuming and cumbersome, requiring numerous internal reviews.
“It is clear there was obvious mismanagement,” said Craig Washington, AID Atlanta’s manager of HIV prevention programs. “We cannot afford the squandering of resources.”
In a prepared statement announcing her slow departure, Price – chair-elect of the American Medical Association – made no mention of the controversy swirling around her. Via the AJC:
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of Fulton County. I look forward to ongoing work on national health policy issues that I believe will have a positive impact on the health of our community,” Harris said in a prepared statement.