Healthcare, State Government

Diving into Dunbar Stop’s numbers: In three parts, paper takes a closer look at COVID program’s financials

MORGANTOWN – A COVID-19 program created to serve the African-American population in Marion and surrounding counties has raised concerns from the foundation whose name the program bears. The program director says the concerns are unfounded and arise from the foundation’s failure to communicate.

And meanwhile, the state Department of Health and Human Resources – the conduit for the federal COVID funds to the program – has its financials under review, but says the review is not based on any apparent wrongdoing.

The program in question is Dunbar School Foundation STOP (Stop the Outbreak of the Pandemic), which began in 2020. It operates at about $1.2 million per year. Fairmont resident Romelia Hodges is CEO.

Dunbar School Foundation President Houston Richardson has raised questions about potential misspending of public funds, nepotism and lack of accountability.

“I was informed that I would receive all the financial data, people that she was hiring, the moneys that would be spent to bring the building up to medical standards. All those promises and commitments were never lived up to,” he said.

The first time STOP sent financial data to Charleston, he said, he also received a report, but only a small portion of the full submission to DHHR. “So I lost faith and trust in the operating environment there. … The thing I need most of all is for them to be open and transparent to the public.”

Hodges counters, “A lot of the problem is a communication issue with Dunbar School Foundation,” and not on STOP’s part. “I would live to sit down and explain to them all of the things that I deal with the state on a consistent basis.”

After a few initial meetings at the beginning, she said, she’s been shut out. She’s sent three emails in the last three months requesting a meeting, but has had no response. She said she learned about the foundation board’s most recent meeting the day after it occurred.

“If we had a more functional board, then I think that all of these issues – there wouldn’t be an issue. I think the board needs some new leadership.”

She said of the program, “It has been such a light for the community, it really has. … Over the past three years that has been my mission – to save lives.”

This story will be in two parts. Today we’ll provide an overview of the program and look at some of the numbers called into question. In Part 2, on Wednesday, we’ll review our communications with the DHHR on the questions raised – including food and beauty supply purchases and some out-of-state travel – and allow Richardson, Hodges and some others to speak. A third story will follow after DHHR completes its review.

Program overview

Hodges and co-founder Tiffany Samuels – who was chief operating officer and no longer works with the program – created DSF Stop (both STOP and Stop are used and we’ll go with Stop) as “a minority wellness organization with an immediate focus of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations within the black community of Fairmont, Morgantown, Clarksburg and surrounding areas.

As we’ve reported before, the state’s first COVID death stemmed from the state’s first outbreak, in a black church in Marion County. Hodges was at the church the day the outbreak began and took a leading role in securing testing for the area’s and state’s black population. The two women created Stop to help save lives in the black community.

Stop has a base clinic in downtown Fairmont – across the street from the Dunbar School in what was the school’s cafeteria. It has also offered mobile services and pop-up events, community events, and transportation to the clinic for people unable to get there.

From June 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, its quarterly reports show that they vaccinated 601 people (including boosters during the second quarter of 2022) and performed 2,145 COVID tests.

The program has evolved to broader health issues as the pandemic has wound down. While it still offers testing and vaccines, it also now offers free telehealth and blood pressure screenings. It’s Facebook page now says, “We are more than a COVID clinic,” and “With pandemic awareness ending, let this start the new beginning to a healthier you.”

The numbers

Stop’s first grant was prepared in April 2021, covering the period of April 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022, and revised (via a change order) that September, covering an extended period – from April 1, 2021, through June 30,2022.

The full budget was $1,197,421. Hodges initial salary was $120,000, with the grant-funded portion being $60,000 based on 50% of time on the grant, but was doubled to $120,000 in the revision based on 100% of time on the grant. Samuels’ salary was $120,000, with the grant funded portion being $60,000 based on being being 50% time on the grant.

Including a medical supervisor, nurses and other staff, total personnel costs were initially $645,650 but revised down to $590,650. The medical supervisor’s time was trimmed to 50%, with salary cut from $80,000 to $40,000. Two registered nurses were trimmed to one.

Various employees received bonuses, including Hodges. DHHR approved the changes and bonuses.

The grant originally budgeted for one full-size extended SUV (a black GMC Yukon) rented at $2,000 per month for $24,000 total; the revision budgeted for two Yukons, doubling the annual rental to $48,000. The monthly rent was considerably more than an actual lease, as we discussed with DHHR and Hodges, to be described in the next part.

The initial grant called for a contract with the Marion County Health Department for storage, personnel and compliance at $25,000 but MCHD was written out in the revision. An MCHD staffer was contracted as a consultant to help set up the program at $40,000 but the relationship with that consultant (not named here – this information was obtained on background) was terminated and only $10,000 was paid (at the time of that interview the money was sitting unused in a bank account).

The MCHD topic was a bone of contention for Richardson, and we’ll get to his objections and Hodges’ explanation further down.

The next grant also was revised. The first, prepared in July 2002, was to cover the period of July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023. The total grant amount was $199,527. The updated, prepared version in October 2022, covered a slightly shorter period – July 1 through May 31. That total amount was $990,000.

Hodges and Samuels both received raises to $130,000 but their amounts from grant funds were reduced. The number of SUVs was initially cut to one then raised back to two.

Hodges said the grant for this year will be modified.

On the topic of nepotism, DSF Stop has a contract with Hodges’ husband, Patrick Hodges, for financial and other services. His business, Northfleet Capital, lists his business address at their Fairmont home. Romelia Hodges also uses their home address for all DSF Stop business.

He was paid $14,250 in 2021 and $4,850 through the first three months of 2022; we have just received the payroll reports for the rest of 2002 and are still reviewing them.

Samuels’ daughter, Justice Samuels, runs Eye Candy Beauty Supply in Fairmont and is on the DSF Stop payroll as an employee. Her son, Jenesis Samuels, was on the payroll as a employee but was subsequently paid as a contractor for services through his company, Jenesis Janitorial Services. We will have their numbers in our next story.

Richardson contends he never approved these contracts. While the DFF board minutes say that the board voted to approve them over his objections, he says the minutes are not correct.

One other contract that we looked at and Hodges will explain in Part 2 is with a Cincinnati, Ohio, mobile juice truck, called Jamgood Juicery, at $40,000 per year for marketing, branding, event promotion and other duties.

DHHR approved all of these contracts.

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