Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
by Dawn Wolfe
On June 23, Wellness House presented its case against the Detroit Health Department to a seemingly uncaring City Council. At issue was a funds allocation process that, according to Wellness House Executive Director Robert Fetzer, denied Wellness House funding for a successful food voucher program and awarded that funding to an agency, Health Emergency Lifeline Program (HELP), that didn’t even apply for vouchers. “They asked me to help them set it up,” said Fetzer at the meeting.
Wellness House’s voucher program was not the only program at issue. According to a June 14 letter from the Health Department to Wellness House supplied to BTL by Fetzer, all of Wellness House’s Ryan White Care Act funding, including funding for food boxes, was contingent upon Wellness House meeting probationary terms mandated by the Department. During the course of the Council meeting, Health Department officials including Director Dr. Noble Maseru raised issues that were not addressed in any of the Department’s correspondance to Wellness House obtained by BTL, including an allegation of lapsed funds from the previous year’s contract.
Wellness House’s concerns were shared by Council President Maryann Mahaffey, who placed the hearing on Council’s agenda. According to a June 18 memo from her office, “An important question that needs to be asked and responded to is how an open and competitive funding process can result in denying funding to the only applicant?” When other members questioned Fetzer for bringing the situation before Council, Mahaffey reiterated her concerns. According to Mahaffey, she sent memos to the Department on May 28 and June 16 asking for an explanation of the funding decision, and “I didn’t get answers from the Department and that’s why we’re here.”
When asked directly whether HELP, the agency that received voucher funding, had applied for it, Cynthia Fletcher-Marshall, the Department’s HIV/AIDS Programs Services Manager, replied that HELP had applied for a category of funding under which vouchers could be funded and that the agency “provide[s] a similar service.”
Council member Sharon MacPhail shared Mahaffey’s concerns, saying, “It looks like something’s going on here – this needs reviewing.” However, the majority of Council seemed to agree with Kay Everett’s stance that, “[This] should have been done behind closed doors.” Ultimately, Council decided to forward the matter to the Auditor General for review. This review will happen too late for Wellness House, as the contracts for AIDS providers which were being held for review by the Council have been released.
Indeed, a letter to Wellness House from the Department dated June 22 indicates that it may already have been too late, even on the day of the Council meeting. Signed by Dr. Vincent Nathan, the Department’s Deputy Director, the letter says that, “…we may find it necessary to rescind our original allocation letter of March 22, 2004…Our office will contact you to schedule a meeting to finalize issues.” And, according to the Department’s own published grievance prodecure, “Grievances will be limited to a[n] alleged process violation. Outcomes are inelegible for mediation or arbitration.” However, when contacted June 29 by BTL, Dr. Maseru indicated that his department’s position is that, “We’re willing to negotiate with them,” about funding for food boxes, “but not for vouchers.”
Given the recent turn of events, Wellness House may well be down for the count. When asked in a June 28 interview about the agency’s future plans, Fetzer said that his board has given him three weeks to explore options, including perhaps attempting to work with the Department. “Shutting down the agency is one of those options.”
Wellness House can be reached at 313-993-1336. Send letters and contributions to 1419 West Warren, Detroit, MI, 48208.
The Detroit City Council can be reached at 313-224-4510, and the Detroit Health Department can be reached by calling 313-876-4000.