- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Department of Homeland Security is demanding the return of a $32.4 FEMA grant awarded to a Houston hospital to repair damages from Hurricane Ike in 2008 after a new audit revealed most of the grant money had been misused.

Officials at Riverside General Hospital could not account for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant funds when it spent $17.6 million of the $32.4 million, according to the report from DHS’ Office of Inspector General released Wednesday.

Hospital management used the money to pay for normal operating expenses, legal fees, federal taxes, insurance, gift cards, a new grant management system and fire alarm repairs — all unrelated to the 2008 hurricane damage, the audit said.

“This is an unconscionable misuse of Federal disaster resources. The entire amount of this grant should be recovered to protect these funds from further abuse,” Inspector General John Roth wrote in a statement.

The hospital still has not completed its hurricane-related repairs and is floundering under huge financial burdens. The Riverside hospital group has suffered drastic financial losses in recent years and has been selling off its hospitals to other healthcare providers. By 2015, it no longer employed staff at any of its locations.

“Riverside’s poor financial accounting system, inability to manage grant funds, and questionable future puts its remaining obligated funds at risk for fraud, waste, and abuse. Therefore, we question the entire award of $32.4 million, including the $17.6 million in advanced funds and $14.8 million in unused funds that remain obligated,” auditors wrote.

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