Local senior center due for audit

The local senior center must undergo an independent audit this year, the first since a former director embezzled more than $600,000 from the organization. Since the center receives less than $500,000 in funding each year, it is on a 5-year schedule for such audits, though several other audits occur more frequently, including an annual audit conducted by the state. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — The local senior center is due for an independent audit this year, but finding someone to do it, — and finding the money to pay for it — has proved to be problematic.

“We only have to do an independent audit every five years based on our expenditure of federal funds,” Uinta Senior Citizens Inc. (USCI) Executive Director Amy Ottley told the Herald. “Our last independent audit was in 2017 so we are due to conduct an audit this year. The problem for me now is finding an auditor and coming up with approximately $12,000 to pay for the audit.”

Community members have reached out to the Herald concerned about the organization being audited, especially after former director Sarah Blakeman was convicted in 2018 of embezzling more than $600,000 from the organization over several years’ time.

Ottley confirmed the requirement for an independent audit with Jeff Clark, community living section manager with Wyoming Department of Health-Aging Division, which oversees senior centers in the state. Ottley wrote to Clark stating that, to her knowledge, the Uinta County Senior Center fell into the 5-year audit requirement based on receiving federal funds under $500,000 annually and that their last independent audit was in 2017.  She stated that her calculations showed the expenditures of federal funds for the Center were $399,751.

Clark responded via email. “I don’t have your organization’s total for federal funds received at my fingertips,” he said. “However, I can confirm you’re correct about the 5-year audit requirement for the amount you stated in your email. I can confirm that our records show your 2017 audit on file, and that per our policy we would require an audit to be complete for 2022.”

The USCI board of directors responded to questions from the Herald with a written statemtent. Its members include Casey Davis, Glenna Calmes, Cara McDaniel, Bettie Tripp and Terri Denhof. 

“USCI is funded primarily through federal and state grant programs that are closely monitored by the Wyoming Department of Health-Aging Division (WDHAD), which oversees all senior centers in the state,” the statement reads. “Some funding is also provided through private grants and donations. While some senior centers receive a regular allocation from the city or county they serve or funds from a mill levy, USCI does not.”

The USCI board wrote that WDHAD requires monthly, quarterly and annual reports when an agency receives funding. The Department of Health also completes an annual audit of each senior center that covers all aspects of operation, not just funding. They reiterated what Ottley said: they are currently searching for an individual or company to complete the audit that’s due this year.

Ottley said USCI not only has an annual audit from the State of Wyoming Department of Health-Aging Division but also one from the State of Wyoming Department of Health-Licensing and Surveying and a federal audit of Medicare and Medicaid. She said USCI also has random, unannounced audits from the State Board of Nursing, as well.

The board said in its statement that USCI faces numerous challenges in its 50th year of operation.

“USCI does not own any of the buildings it uses,” the statement reads. “Most are owned by Uinta County, and USCI receives support from Uinta County for building repair and maintenance, but the agency is responsible for all upkeep and equipment. The City of Evanston does not contribute any funds or facilities to USCI. Large expenditures, such as the recent necessary replacement of a furnace and freezer in the Bridger Valley Center are the responsibility of USCI. Like all individuals and organizations, USCI is negatively impacted by the current increased cost of goods, transportation and services. Current grant funding through the state has been decreased for all centers because of the amount of funding provided in the earlier months of the COVID pandemic.”

Ottley said, “We are so grateful to the county for the use of the buildings. The county has been amazing.”

Another concern brought to the Herald’s attention was the lack of board meetings for the last several months. Ottley’s response was that through the summer months, it has been impossible to have a quorum of board members attend. However, she said, they are having a face-to-face board meeting this month.

The board also responded to that concern in its letter. During the height of the pandemic, the letter reads, they held public Zoom meetings and some months they could not gather a quorum, so review and approval of bills were completed electronically instead. Currently, the letter states, Ottley has been temporarily working remotely while the board considers permanent options.

Ottley, who now lives in Casper, said she has remained in the position of director so she could see the center through “the tough month of July,” when many grant applications were due.  She said she realizes that being a long-distance director is not fair to the agency and plans to terminate her employment once the independent audit is completed.

“The senior centers operated by USCI perform an essential function for some of the most at-risk and underserved members of our communities,” the board summed up in its statement. “It would benefit everyone to support the centers that provide meals, health services and social activities that are cornerstones of our society.”

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