CANTON Closing the books on two longtime agencies of the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department revealed a $1.6 million shortfall that will come out of the countys $6.5 million fund balance.
The loss came to light when a billing reconciliation was done for the Certified Home Health Agency, which closed in 2013, and its sister agency, the Long-Term Health Care Agency, which transferred its last patient in March.
Unfortunately, its going to be a bitter pill, said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler. I hope weve reached the bottom.
One bright note in Mondays legislators meeting was news from County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire that the county will receive $500,000 more than it expected as part of a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies. The loss from Public Health and the additional tobacco money brings the fund balance to $5.4 million.
Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, questioned how the county will meet its five-year plan of staying within the states tax cap.
Where do we stop spending? Ms. St. Hilaire said. I dont have that answer yet.
As part of the reconciliation, staff from Public Health and the county treasurers office, along with Ms. St. Hilaire, determined that Public Health miscalculated its 2011 revenue as $3.5 million when the correct amount was $2.6 million, an overstatement of $904,562.
On top of that, they determined that outstanding billing was $793,215. The staff so far has received about $20,000 from reviewed cases. As much as $50,000 may be collected from the remaining balance, leaving $725,000 that probably will be uncollectible.
In some cases, Medicaid reduced payments or changed the rules in midstream. Elsewhere, insurance companies paid less than what was billed and the difference was never adjusted, or else the bills were not pursued in a timely manner and are too old to collect.
Part of the problem was a disconnect between the Public Health billing system and the countys financial program. With no further revenue coming in, the problem became clear, Ms. St. Hilaire said.
She wants the state comptrollers office to conduct an audit to answer any remaining questions and for the county to meet its fiscal obligations. She also wants Treasurer Kevin M. Felts office to audit every departments financial policies and procedures.
An audit could create a timeline for the breakdown, said Legislator Jason A. Clark, D-Norfolk. He suggested enlisting the help of the Wladis Law Firm, which lobbies for the county, to appeal to the state for further Medicaid reimbursement.
Staff turnover also played a part in the departments financial troubles. Six people over the last decade have served as fiscal manager. It has been difficult, said Debra L. Bridges, the latest to fill the position. Its not due to lack of effort.
Similar problems may pertain to other departments, said Legislator Vernon D. Sam Burns, D-Ogdensburg.
What Im worried about is all the other software programs that we use for billing so that we understand all the pitfalls, he said. Its important we do the cross-training. We have to allow our employees time to do this. Otherwise, this is what happens.
The county had warning signs that all was not well in Public Health, including when accounts receivable did not match up with billable hours, several legislators said.
You guys had severe red flags, said Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon. You were using projections off of bad numbers.