Dan Hust | Democrat
Legislators Kitty Vetter, Cindy Gieger, Cora Edwards and Gene Benson addressed the press and a crowd of county employees (including some looking out from upstairs windows) on a brisk Tuesday outside the county’s social services complex in Liberty, vowing to extend investigations into benefits fraud.
Welfare fraud unit expands its scope
Story by Dan Hust
LIBERTY November 22, 2013 Calling the system “broken,” County Legislator Cindy Gieger and several of her colleagues on Tuesday announced an effort to continue to root out fraud in the county’s social services system.
But there’s a twin goal that was hinted at on the wind-whipped front lawn of the Travis Building in Liberty: uncovering corruption on the part of vendors and county employees administering those services.
Two such employees were arrested over the weekend, in fact. Mother-and-son Darlene and George Conklin Jr., who worked as social service examiners for the county, are charged with forging documents related to housing, food stamp and heating assistance between 2011 and 2013.
The arrests were the result of a new, aggressive Fraud Investigations Unit, led by former Monticello police officer Gerard Dietz, which was created earlier this year and has thus far saved the county an estimated $13.6 million in what could have been fraudulent benefits payouts.
“While much has come to light and much progress made, there is more to be done,” said Gieger, who chairs the Legislature’s Health and Family Services Committee.
She hinted at the yin and yang of a department focused on providing benefits to a wide range of people. Some staff, said Gieger, “have, on numerous occasions, filed complaints trying to be heard but have become frustrated by the efforts of some to suppress information.”
There’s a need, she added, “to identify and address policies and procedures throughout county government that limit information needed to address these very real concerns.”
The concerns extend to Medicaid vendors and beneficiaries.
“Years of a lack of oversight has led to streams of Medicaid funding moving through hundreds upon hundreds of Medicaid shelters, many of which are unverified, amounting to millions upon millions of tax dollars sent outside this county to addresses elsewhere,” she said.
So with the backing of at least four of her colleagues legislators Gene Benson, Cora Edwards, Kitty Vetter and Alan Sorensen Gieger proposed the following:
• Reinstating a position in the Health and Family Services Division’s Legal Department to review and reform programs, under the supervision of Commissioner Randy Parker
• Reviewing that department, particularly focusing on programs affecting children and their families to make their safety a priority
• Setting policies to verify all active Medicaid vendors and provide oversight of all Safety Net cases
• Changing whistleblower policies to ensure complaints are handled timely, appropriately and without retaliation against the complaining employee
“Business will be conducted in a better way to protect employees concerned about the delivery of services to our people and to provide accountability for our taxpayer dollars,” Gieger affirmed, “but most importantly to protect Medicaid funding for those in need.”
Legislator Edwards called it a shift from Sullivan County’s infamy as a “benefits destination” to a reputation as a resort destination.
“We are in a transition period, and we want to be ready,” she explained.
“The untold savings are more than monetary,” remarked Legislator Vetter. “... The old way of doing business will no longer be so simple.”