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Audit: Broward heart screening program spends more on administrative costs than testing

 The website for the Broward Heart Project spearheaded by County Commissioner Mark Bogen.
The website for the Broward Heart Project spearheaded by County Commissioner Mark Bogen.

The audit also found the program is underserving Black residents and sending most of the money to advertisements, administrators and a consultant.

A heart disease prevention program that provides tests free of charge to thousands of Broward County residents spent a large part of its budget so far on administrative expenses — and little on tests, according to a county audit published Monday.

The Broward Heart Project, spearheaded by Commissioner Mark Bogen, began a two-year pilot program in May 2023. The goal: offer county residents free preventative heart screenings. Commissioners approved $10 million. The audit shows only about $2.5 million spent to date but that only $624,400 has funded actual tests. The rest went to marketing and consultants.

RELATED: Audit of Broward heart program comes as county decides on tax funding

The audit also questioned the validity of the tests themselves, noting that testing asymptomatic people "is not universally accepted in the medical community."

The audit notes that the president-elect of the Florida Chapter of American College of Cardiology said the screenings were "inappropriate” for most patients.

The audit comes after a contentious March commission meeting in which Bogen pitched a proposal to create a tax to help fund the program. He wants a referendum on the ballot in November asking voters to approve the tax, which would yield about $125 million for the program.

Some commissioners have questioned what the program would do with so much money despite not being able to spend a quarter of its initial budget.

Bogen recently lowered the proposed sales-tax from a quarter of a cent to a tenth of a cent. This would yield about $50 million a year for the program.

Administrative costs are high

The county contracted with Sydcura for $9 million to administer and manage the screening process. The county also hired Celymor for consulting services. According to the audit, the company is managed by Claudio Smuclovisky, a radiologist who works with Holy Cross Health in Fort Lauderdale.

The majority of tests — 55% — were performed at Holy Cross, according to the audit, which noted the hospital had the most available appointments.

Smuclovisky, through the county's contract, has received $345,000 for consulting services, according to the audit.

Other issues raised by report

The audit found that the program is also not verifying whether applicants actually live in the county, a requirement of the program.

"Although applicants check a box as part of the online application indicating that they are Broward County residents when beginning the application, we noted that no supporting documentation is required, and no verification is performed to validate the residency of an applicant," the audit read.

Despite the lack of documentation, say auditors, they only found two non-Broward residents who received tests.

Another red flag raised was that the program's administrator and consultant were not providing adequate financial documentation for some expenses. Neither was the county's Office of Public Communications, which made advertisements and purchased space for program in print and television.

"Our review noted that some expenditures were not supported by adequate documentation that would detail the type of services being paid," the audit said.

Black people made up only 9% of the screenings — despite being a targeted demographic because they are "traditionally medically underserved."

The program also aimed to screen a minimum of 15,000 residents, according to county documents. The audit states that the pilot program will not come close to that benchmark based on the availability of appointments.

So far, the program has screened less than 1,800 people. The most the program could handle before the expiration of the pilot program is just under 6,000, according to the audit. So far, 59% of people tested received results that warranted further medical attention.

Commissioners question need for tax

The program has been hailed as lifesaving by some who have taken it, and by Bogen himself. Still, many commissioners doubted he could convince them the program needed funding from a new tax.

Bogen told WLRN that because of state statutes some of the money from the tax would go to local hospitals. He said this would replace money the county currently sends — about $15 million a year to the two public hospital systems, Memorial and Broward Health, for indigent care.

Another chunk of money from the tax, $6.5 million, would go to a trauma center, leaving about $25 million for the heart project, he added.

Bogen said his goal is a county-operated center where these tests and cancer screenings could take place. Currently, the program uses machines at other hospitals which causes scheduling delays.

Mayor Nan Rich argued that this program could be funded by the hospitals that have taxing authority in Broward County.

"They are responsible, that is their core mission: health care,” she said during a March meeting. “I'm thrilled that we were able to do a pilot program. There's a lot of information that actually shows an existing need that is not being met in our community, and I think we should continue to support it.”

The audit was published a day before the county plans to meet and discuss Bogen's pitch for a November referendum during Tuesday's county meeting.

Bogen did not reply to a message sent by WLRN requesting his comment on the audit.

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Gerard Albert III is a senior journalism major at Florida International University, who flip-flopped around creative interests until being pulled away by the rush of reporting.