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County health and social services contracts need better oversight, auditors say

Multnomah County's contract oversight practices need revamping to ensure people are getting the services they need, according to a report issued by Auditor Jennifer McGuirk. County officials say they're working on it.
The Behavioral Health Resource Center that opened downtown last year is part of a system of health and social services overseen by Multnomah County, but a new audit says more needs to be done to ensure those services are being delivered properly. | EMILY GREEN/THE LUND REPORT
June 27, 2024

Several programs at Multnomah County engage in no formal monitoring of health and social services contracts, and many contractor invoices take more than two months to be paid, auditors found.

Multnomah County’s elected auditor, Jennifer McGuirk, released a report Thursday finding a lack of coordination between county offices and that the county had not updated its contract monitoring policy since 2011. As a result, different departments used different standards and oversight was neither consistent nor equitable — which is worrisome considering the critical nature of the services being rendered, according to McGuirk.

“It’s essential that the county’s contract monitoring practices be consistent and effective to make sure that people who need services are actually receiving them from contracted providers,” she said in a prepared statement.

To do their work, auditors tested a sample of contracts issued by the Joint Office of Homeless Services, the county’s departments of health, human services and community justice. They found that some used formal contract oversight tools to ensure services were provided, while others used inconsistent or informal monitoring techniques considered to be less effective, such as through correspondence or meetings.

At the youth and family services division of the human services department, for instance, two out of eight contracts had not been the subject of an on-site visit to check on the services being rendered since 2018 — which county managers said was due to the pandemic and a staff vacancy.

The audit also found a glitch in the county’s invoice tracking system meant that the county could not tell if it was paying providers on a timely basis.

The report followed up on a 2016 report urging the county to revise its contract oversight practices and a 2022 report disclosing that $525,000 had been wasted due to ineffective contract oversight.

In her response, Multnomah board Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, who oversees the county bureaucracy, acknowledged that the county’s contract oversight policy was outdated and not enforced. But she said that a consultant had described the county’s contracting oversight as generally strong, and that the county was in the midst of making improvements to match practices used elsewhere — including setting up a new contract oversight office three months ago.