Healthcare, State Government

DHHR discusses monitoring Dunbar Stop COVID program, and hiring of family members

MORGANTOWN – In Part 2 of our review of concerns raised about spending by the Dunbar School Foundation Stop program we begin reporting on our conversations with the Department of Health and Human Resources about the program.

Stop is a COVID-19 program created to serve the African-American population in Marion, Monongalia, Harrison and Taylor counties. Its initial grant budget for the period April 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, was $1,197,421.

CEO Romelia Hodges and co-founder Tiffany Samuels – who was chief operating officer and no longer works with the program – created DSF 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.

When The Dominion Post submitted a list of questions to DHHR about DSF Stop, we learned that its financials are under review. We asked if the review implied any wrongdoing, and if it was triggered by our questions. DHHR said the review was prompted by a tip from a third party.

DHHR said: “The review currently being conducted by DHHR and mentioned throughout the responses to your questions are not routine monitoring procedures and were not triggered by your questions. DHHR planned the review in June 2022 in response to a tip from an external source. The review began in July 2022. Once DHHR received the tip from the external source, it caused DHHR to consider the DSF to be a high-risk guarantee that warrants additional monitoring beyond the standard level of monitoring that is required for all DHHR grant awards.”

“If you are asking whether the DSF administered the grant in accordance with all the terms and conditions of the grant, particularly as related to federal financial management standards, internal controls requirements, procurement standards and cost principles, DHHR has reason to believe that the DSF did not fully comply due to the DSF’s overall lack of understanding with said terms and conditions.

“If you are asking whether the DSF knowingly engaged in acts of fraud or corruption or attempt to defraud the government or corrupt its agents; acts that constitute a cause for debarment or suspension; or acts which violate the False Claims Act or the Anti-kickback Act, DHHR has not yet made a formal declaration or issued a written opinion on the matter.”

DHHR prefaced its answers to our questions with an overview of its responsibilities.

“As a pass-through entity, DHHR has an administrative and regulatory responsibility to monitor the activities of its subrecipients as necessary to ensure that federal awards are used for authorized purposes and in compliance with laws, regulations, and the provisions of contracts or grant agreements, and to ensure that performance goals are achieved.

“However, such monitoring does not and cannot include a review of every single expenditure incurred by every subrecipient. The federal government recognizes that the taxpayer costs of such an endeavor would far outweigh the benefits.

“As opposed to reviewing and making a management decision on every single expenditure incurred by subrecipients, DHHR is required to evaluate each subrecipient’s risk of noncompliance. … If the subrecipient’s risk of noncompliance … is high, additional monitoring tools may be considered for ensuring proper accountability and compliance with program requirements and achievement of performance goals.”

We submitted questions covering various topics raised in our discussions with those who had concerns. We’ll look at one topic today – nepotism – and include comments from DSF President Houston Richardson and from Hodges.


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.

Records submitted to DHHR show he received $14,450 in 2021 (with the first check issued July 30) and $4,850 through the first three months of 2022 (the most recent records we received).

Samuels’ daughter, Justice Samuels, runs Eye Candy Beauty Supply in Fairmont and is on the DSF Stop payroll as an employee. She received $11,325 in 2021 and $3,375 through the first three months of 2022.

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. He was contracted for janitorial, security and maintenance services at $10 per hour for 25 hours per week. He received $4,320 in 2021 and $6,400 through the first three months of 2022.

DHHR explained, “No employee, officer, or agent may participate in the selection, award, or administration of a contract supported by a grant award if he or she has a real or apparent conflict of interest. Such a conflict of interest would arise when the employee, officer, or agent, any member of his or her immediate family, his or her partner, or an organization which employs or is about to employ any of the parties indicated herein, has a financial or other interest in or a tangible personal benefit from a firm considered for a contract.

“Upon reviewing the expenditures and supporting documentation associated with the grant to the Dunbar School Foundation, DHHR learned of the apparent conflicts of interest. Upon inquiring further, DHHR learned that the Dunbar School Foundation did not have written standards of conduct covering conflicts of interest, nor did it have any written policies and procedures at all for procurement transactions.

“As such, DHHR provided technical assistance to the Dunbar School Foundation in an effort to ensure they were aware of the rules surrounding procurement and instructed the Dunbar School Foundation to develop written procedures for procurement transactions to include standards of conduct covering conflicts of interest.”

How it came about that the family members of Stop’s two leaders got hired is a matter of disagreement.

The DSF board’s June 17, 2021, minutes tell one story. Hodges and Samuels were there and proposed hiring Justice Samuels as a community health liaison, given her position as the “only licensed hairdresser in Fairmont.” And they proposed hiring Jenesis for security and janitorial work.

The minutes read: “Houston was opposed, stating he has never agreed with nepotism. Additional discussion continued and Tiffany asked the board to consider accepting Patrick Hodges in a contract position to allow him to get paid for the endless hours that he is working assisting Romelia and Tiffany.”

Board Secretary “Regina Riley made the motion to accept Justice Samuels, Jenesis Samuels and Patrick Hodges into their respective positions and accepting the Conflict of Interest.”

The motion was seconded and approved.

But Richardson said the hires were not approved and the foundation never agreed to nepotism. If the minutes reflect that they did, the minutes are incorrect.

Romelia Hodges explained the reasons for the hires. It was the height of COVID and Stop was seeking applications for people to work in a COVID clinic, putting out the proper notices.

“It was crickets. We got no one.” Nurses, in particular, were in high demand. “It was very hard to find people to employ.”

So they had had family members pitch in, in roles where their skills could serve the organization.

For example, one of their aims was to reach people in Black community hubs – churches, barber shops, beauty shops. And Justice Samuels’ shop was one of those hubs, with a lot of foot traffic.

“She became a good prospect to do that community health worker job that she took on,” Hodges said. And all the hires were disclosed to Richardson.

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