Sedgwick County, KDHE spar over flu funds

It's not very often that you try to give someone nearly half a million dollars and they say "Thanks, but no thanks."

But that's what Sedgwick County says was the gist of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's initial response earlier this year.

The county says it told officials in Topeka in February that they had passed on too many federal dollars to fight the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

KDHE didn't think so.

Sedgwick County "was unable to convince KDHE of the discrepancy at that time," a memo from county staff to commissioners says.

But recently, KDHE asked for the money back.

In a May 13 letter, the department said an audit uncovered the $427,707 discrepancy. The letter said that the county owes the state because it was not able to use all the money; the county says KDHE explained the discrepancy happened because the county was paid both electronically and by check for a portion of the money.

Commissioners will vote Wednesday on returning the money.

The item is on the board's consent agenda this week, routine business that is voted on all at once. Memos from staff always tell commissioners of alternatives to voting "yes" or voting "no."

In this case, staff listed the alternative as "none."

Put simply, the money must go back.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who keeps close tabs on the federal deficit, said the glitch "goes to illustrate how inefficient government can be. None of us would lose track of $500,000 of our own money."

A KDHE spokesman on Monday could not immediately comment about the issue.

In October 2009, the county's health department received just more than $2.1 million in public health emergency funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, handled through KDHE. The health department used the money to provide vaccinations for the community and to educate people about how to try to avoid getting the pandemic flu.

Of 159,700 H1N1 vaccine doses allocated to Sedgwick County, 24 percent went to the health department (Wichita Mall Clinic and mobile clinics), 56 percent to private providers such as hospitals and pharmacies, and 20 percent to school vaccine clinics.