Audit criticizes Gov. Hogan's purchase of 500k COVID-19 tests from South Korea last year

Maryland acquires 500,000 COVID-19 tests from South Korea
Posted at 12:36 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 12:42:04-04

ANNAPOLIS, Md.  — The Maryland General Assembly's Office of Legislative Audits has found multiple issues with Governor Larry Hogan's purchase last year of 500,000 COVID-19 tests from the South Korean company, LabGenomics.

Initial shipments were delivered April 18 and 22 at a total cost of $9,464,369.

At the time of their arrival, the audit claims the tests had not yet been authorized by the FDA.

"A study by one laboratory indicated the tests were likely to have an increased number of false-negatives and inconclusive results, and increased test processing times," auditors wrote in their report.

The Maryland Department of Health however only admitted, "that certain tests used by one laboratory were found to produce inconclusive results."

By June 23 almost all of the tests had been returned, but the Health Department didn't specify why.

Meanwhile another half-million test kits arrived on May 21 and June 17, at an additional cost of $2.5 million.

Inexplicably, shipping costs for the second order totaled $14,265 compared to nearly $500,000 for the first one.

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Some at Towson University and certain nursing homes raised reliability concerns about a portion of the results from the second batch of tests, which were reported by the University of Maryland Pathology Associates laboratory.

The state's Public Health Laboratory and Office of Health Care Quality apparently investigated, finding procedural deficiencies but not any clear issues with the tests themselves.

Auditors say they were unable to obtain documentation on test results that could have potentially corroborated the reliability concerns.

Despite their uncertainty, all of the tests were used by December 15, 2020.

The audit claims the Hogan Administration failed to properly document both test purchases and procure them in compliance with state regulations.

"The lack of a comprehensive written contract precluded effective monitoring," wrote Legislative Auditor, Gregory A. Hook, CPA.

In response to the audit, administration officials wrote at the time the tests were purchased, an emergency use authorization with the FDA was pending.

They added the unprecedented nature of the emergency required adapting existing practices to ensure that Maryland was able to respond to the pandemic.

Auditors also looked into the firing of two State employees after they had raised red flags about the COVID tests.

One employee was the former Director of Student Health Services at Towson University.

They claim to have been terminated approximately one month after questioning a large spike in positive COVID cases, which occurred around the same time the second batch of tests were being administered.

Although the employee's supervisor said the firing was unrelated and due to performance issues, auditors couldn't find written proof that was the case.

The second person who lost their job was the former Director of Procurement at the Maryland Department of Health, who'd previously called the first batch of tests "clunky."

They told auditors their termination happened one week before a State Board of Public Works meeting, in order to possibly prevent them from speaking out negatively about the tests.

In response, the former Secretary and current Chief of Staff at the Health Department told auditors the employee was fired due to their position only being part-time and the need for someone to serve full-time.

Finally, the auditors addressed their critics who accused their report of being rushed and politically-driven.

"The field work underlying this report’s conclusions was conducted over a four- and-half-month period, which is an unprecedented amount of time for such a focused review, and demonstrates OLA’s level of care and detail taken to ensure the comprehensiveness and correctness of our conclusions."