By: Nicki Harper
A long-standing senior manager at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board has resigned amid an independent inquiry, which found she had misused public money, although there was no indication it had been used for her own pecuniary gain.
The DHB commissioned the inquiry into executive director of strategy and health improvement Tracee Te Huia after September last year when money was discovered missing from a lockbox used to store and safeguard accommodation funds.
The money was received from whanau who had stayed at the Maori Health Mihiroa Whare, which was based at Hawke’s Bay hospital, and came under Ms Te Huia’s management.
An internal audit in October last year revealed money collected for accommodation, koha and money from user-pays laundry machines was being deposited into a New Zealand Credit Union (NZCU) account in Te Huia’s name.
A second internal audit in November identified that not all funds received for the whare accommodation could be accounted for and concerns were raised over where the money had gone.
In addition, there was evidence that money from this account had been used to pay for personal dental work for an unidentified person, which did not eventuate, the report said.
The report, parts of which were redacted, including an interview that was conducted with Ms Te Huia and witness statements, noted there was other evidence to show that funds were being used for entertainment, social events and purchases without identifying what the money was being spent on.
These included sums of $880 and $464 for staff Christmas and social events, and other withdrawals from the NZCU account, some as large as $1000, without any explanation or receipts detailing the purchases.
The report said that for a significant period of time in 2016 through to early 2017 consistent reconciliations appeared not to have been completed at all.
Te Huia’s name had been attached to the account for eight years, and she had distanced herself from it saying she had left it to others to administer because she had a far greater budget to deal with, the report said.
A witness told investigators they were adamant all withdrawals were at Te Huia’s instruction and before the introduction of an eftpos card, NZCU would telephone and require verbal confirmation from Te Huia before processing the cash withdrawal.
The report stated that staff both past and present from the whare were apprehensive that the NZCU account had been created in an individual’s name to process DHB funds.
Some of those staff told the investigation they did not take the matter further because of Te Huia’s expressed and implied intention to become the next chief executive of the DHB.
The report recommended that disciplinary action could be instigated against Te Huia on a number of matters, and that the breaches fell into the range of serious misconduct which could justify the termination of her employment.
Te Huia resigned in December last year.
She said the review had not been concluded and – while there appeared to be issues raised in the report about poor management practice, breach of policy, and inappropriate use of funds – there were no issues of funds misappropriation for her own pecuniary gain.
“However there were issues with poor management practice and as a member of the senior management team, I take responsibility for that and that is why I have resigned.”
Because of that early resignation, she said she had not had an opportunity to respond to a number of allegations raised in the report, and she would fully co-operate with ongoing investigation.
DHB chief executive Kevin Snee said the initial report disclosed various matters that had given rise to further questions, which the DHB had asked the author of the initial report to inquire further into, as well as providing the DHB with confidence that any cash collected meets rigorous scrutiny.
“The DHB has acted appropriately and swiftly as soon as it was made aware of the issues and is continuing to inquire further. Next steps, including any involvement of other agencies, will be considered and determined once the DHB has received the further report.”
Snee said he could not give a precise date on when that further report was expected, but that it was a priority.
Source: NZ Herald