NC senator calls for investigation of state’s COVID-19 contact tracing initiative

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The Carolina Community Tracing Initiative was formed with the goal of assisting Governor Roy Cooper’s slow phased reopening of the state economy, but ten days after it was announced a member of the General Assembly is calling for an investigation.

According to Madison County Health Director James Madson, contact tracing is a job that has historically been handled by local health departments.

“We’ve been doing it for Tuberculosis and HIV,” said Madson. “We’re pretty familiar with identifying and contact tracing.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen announced April 27 that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was partnering with two companies to hire 250 new agents for the newly formed Carolina Community Tracing Initiative.

“The new collaborative will hire and train local staff that will support local health departments contact tracing efforts,” Cohen said during an April 27 news conference.

In a release announcing the deal, DHHS praised Community Care of North Carolina and North Carolina Area Health Education Centers.

The news release didn’t mention that North Carolina State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson previously worked for Community Care of North Carolina and that her husband is listed as the director of Area Health Education Centers.

“I think they need to explain how they reached the conclusion that these were the folks they were going to enter into the contract with,” said Sen. Danny Britt (R).

“We had an evaluation committee that was formed that was under the person who runs procurement for the Department of Health and Human Services, Iris Cooper,” Cohen said. “That evaluation committee evaluated the candidates on the criteria, and selected that.”

“Even if they went about it the right way if that’s where they landed I think it’s still problematic because it looks bad,” Britt said.

“Would DHHS support an investigation into how those contracts were awarded?,” asked CBS 17 reporter Holden Kurwicki.

“Yes,” Cohen said. “I welcome the transparency on this effort.”

Cohen added that Tilson was not part of the selection process and had completely recused herself. Furthermore, NCDHHS said in a statement to CBS 17 that “an evaluation committee scored proposals based on a range of requirements, including speed to market, the ability to hire at least 50 percent of staff locally, and experience with local health departments.

“The committee submitted a recommendation to the Assistant Secretary, Office of Procurement, Contracts and Grants. The Deputy Secretary of Medicaid reviewed the evaluation process.”

Britt said he has already reached out to the Ethics Committee and Committee on Oversight about a potential investigation.

CBS 17 still has a number of questions about the procurement process and hopes to get answers in the coming days.

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