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Audit says Erie County was overcharged by independent healthcare company for ‘Test to Stay’ program

“Test to Stay was over a half million dollars"
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Posted at 5:03 PM, Sep 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-22 18:28:30-04

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — The Erie County Comptroller says he found discrepancies in billing by a company that was part of the ’Test to Stay’ program in local schools last school year.

An audit of Buffalo Homecare shows the company was overcharging for its services.

“Test to Stay was over a half million dollars,” Kevin Hardwick, comptroller, Erie County, “The vendor — Buffalo Homecare — overcharged the county.”

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Kevin Hardwick, comptroller, Erie County.

Buffalo Homecare provided health care workers so that students could be tested for COVID at schools in districts that participated in Test to Stay.

The Erie County Health Department hired the vendor to help at 17-school districts and 11 private schools across the county.

But an eight-page audit by the comptroller outlines potential irregularities in the billing.

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Student tested for COVID.

“There was a lack of documentation for hours and mileage. There were also discrepancies in the rates for individuals — the hourly rates for individuals,” Hardwick explained.

Hardwick says the vendor doesn't agree with the entire audit, but they are working with the county to resolve the issue.

We reached out to County Executive Poloncarz’s office to speak with him about the issue, but we were referred to his deputy budget director.

“This all started with a whistler blower complaint in January that came into the Erie County Health Department,” replied Mark Cornell, deputy budget director, Erie County.

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Mark Cornell, deputy budget director, Erie County.

Cornell tells me the health department was the first to flag the issue and took action when the billing problem was discovered.

“As soon as they identified there were some bilge irregularities, they immediately took a number of actions. First was a stop payment on all invoices related to the Buffalo Homecare contracts and moved to terminate those contracts,” Cornell noted.

“We knew that problems like this could arise without proper oversight,” stated Joe Lorigo, Erie County Legislator.

Lorgio, a republican lawmaker, blames County Executive Mark Poloncarz for implementing emergency powers during covid that bypassed the legislature's approval for this contract.

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Joe Lorigo, Erie County Legislator.

“He wanted to use his emergency authority to enter into contracts on his own. Now we see that one of those contracts out dozens, possibly hundreds. has a half a million dollar discrepancy — almost 50 percent of the total contract can’t be justified,” Lorigo remarked.

Cornell also noted the “real net” amount is now about $50,000 because there are $525,000 in outstanding invoices from Buffalo Homecare that the county is withholding payment on as it tries to resolve issues.

Lorigo says it's not fair to taxpayers.

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Buffalo Homecare, Delaware Avenue, Buffalo.

“Those were people's hard-earned tax dollars that were spent,” declared Lorigo. “At the end of the day, whether it was county tax dollars, CARES Act money, or American Rescue plan money, that could have been used elsewhere.”

But Hardwick says a vast majority of the funding did not come from the county. Most came from the federal CARES Act. However, Hardwick says they will make sure checks and balances will be in place to prevent overfilling to happen in the future.

“This sort of thing should not happen and we can’t let it happen again,” Hardwick said.