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Controller says sites were not checked, standards not met for 'recovery houses'


Last updated 7/10/2019 at 8:17pm

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said the county’s Department of Human Services (DHS) allowed contractors to establish housing sites for individuals recovering from addiction where they were not permitted, and has not held the providers to performance benchmarks established by the county.

“Providing a supportive living environment for individuals recovering from addiction is an essential and laudable goal for Allegheny County. But with overdose deaths at epidemic levels and these individuals being housed in residential communities, there must be controls and a level of accountability that has simply not existed,” Ms. Wagner said. “Both our neighbors who are striving for recovery and communities who expect that our government is holding providers to acceptable standards deserve better.”

Service provider Three Rivers Youth suspended Recovery Housing services in April 2018 when it was found that its two facilities in the Brighton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh were operating without valid occupancy permits or necessary zoning variances.

Auditors found DHS staff never visited the Three Rivers Youth facilities or the facilities of the other providers before awarding the contracts, nor requested copies of applicable permits or licenses. Three of five contracted facilities had failed to obtain a required Rooming House Permit from the Allegheny County Health Department.

“The most basic due diligence by the county—making sure a provider is legally permitted to do what the county was hiring them for—wasn’t met in this case. The county should be proactively working with municipalities to ensure community requirements and standards are met, and should certainly be working with other agencies under the county administration that issue necessary permits. Instead, facilities opened and operated where they never should have been allowed, and the residents of these facilities saw their lives and their treatment disrupted,” Ms. Wagner said.

Meanwhile, none of the four Recovery Housing facilities met all performance outcome benchmarks established in the county’s Request for Proposals (RFP). Auditors found DHS staff had very limited or no discussions with providers regarding their ability to meet the outcome benchmarks before awarding the contracts. The fifth provider suspended services after only 17 days.

The audit said that the benchmarks established in the RFP should have been included in the providers’ contracts to allow for accountability and enforcement.

“Spending taxpayer money without clear expectations or accountability is always unacceptable, but when we are dealing with the lives of vulnerable members of our community, that performance benchmarks are not being clearly articulated much less met is truly distressing,” Ms. Wagner said.

Further deficiencies identified by auditors include:

• One provider’s files showed no evidence that nine of 15 residents sampled had ever been subjected to a drug test or breathalyzer, and that for six residents who were drug tested no copies of the results were on file.

• House Manager positions at each of the two Three Rivers Youth facilities were vacant for periods of between two months and four-and-a-half months, and the case manager position at one facility was vacant for approximately four-and-a-half months. Case managers at that facility failed to complete any weekly resident check-ins for ten resident files reviewed.

• Another provider did not provide training in the use of the opioid antidote Narcan to most of its employees.

“Inadequate controls and supervision is absolutely unacceptable in these cases, to both the residents of these facilities and the communities in which they are located,” Ms. Wagner said.

She said state legislation (Act 59 of 2017) which took effect last year requiring licensing of recovery houses by the state should help to better establish and standardize requirements for Recovery Housing.

The performance audit report on Allegheny County Department of Human Services RFP and Contract Award process for recovery housing for the period of July 1, 2017 through October 31, 2018 is available at:


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