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Financial management for public health systems: The path to building sustainable services

04.25.24

Amidst the cycle of public health underfunding, and in the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies are trying to find financial stability in a space that has seen volatile and drastic changes in recent years. According to the National Association of County and City Health Officials, “The sustainability of the governmental public health system depends on the financial health of state and local public health agencies.” With this co-dependency of successful and sustainable public health services to financial stability, it is imperative to have a workforce that understands their obligations to effectively manage public funds.

A public health workforce in need of training

According to the 2021 Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (WINS), 54% of public health employees across the nation identified budget and financial management as a strategic skill that is highly important to their role but their proficiency in the area is low. This category outranked all other training needs assessed including change management, community engagement, and strategic thinking.

To help public health state agencies target budget and fiscal management training needs for their workforce, a comprehensive assessment can be utilized to examine four domains of administrative management activities with a focus on financial management. These four domains and topic areas include:

Domain Topics

Planning, execution, and program implementation

Policies, processes, procedures, and practices

Budget and performance monitoring, reporting, and closeout

Communications

Subgrant award and monitoring

Workforce (staffing, roles, responsibilities, onboarding, competencies)

Executive oversight

Data, systems, and information

Program alignment

Risk and priority


Reviewing these areas can help an agency assess its current decision-making and grant management processes to identify challenges that may lead to opportunities. Opportunities highlight what an agency can do with available resources to support equitable services. The opportunities are then used to inform a roadmap for process improvement and identify action items with a focus on training, policy development, monitoring, and communication. The roadmap defines an implementation strategy with measurable benchmarks and outcomes.

Overall, a comprehensive assessment can kickstart a strategic planning cycle developed to encourage fair and impartial administrative practices that adhere to federal regulations and offer opportunities to leverage additional funds in the future.

Using this framework, your public health agency can begin to manage administrative services wisely and fully leverage funding that can have the greatest impact on population health in the regions you serve. Ask “What are we doing to set up administrative routines for our agency that support equitable services?” and “How are we equipping our staff with the tools needed to effectively leverage resources that promote and improve population health?”

BerryDunn is experienced and poised to support cross-agency governance teams to undertake assessment and implementation activities. Through collaboration with agency leaders, BerryDunn’s team can facilitate discovery of opportunities for improvements in governmental budgeting and finance training, process improvement, development of finance tools and resources, and enhance communication and coordination between program and finance staff.

Learn more about how BerryDunn can support your agency in achieving these goals. If you have a specific question or if you'd like to set up an informational meeting with our team, please contact Julie Sullivan, Senior Manager and Practice Lead.

Topics: public health

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Read this if your company is considering outsourced information technology services.

For management, it’s the perennial question: Keep things in-house or outsource?

For management, it’s the perennial question: Keep things in-house or outsource? Most companies or organizations have outsourcing opportunities, from revenue cycle to payment processing to IT security. When deciding whether to outsource, you weigh the trade-offs and benefits by considering variables such as cost, internal expertise, cross coverage, and organizational risk.

In IT services, outsourcing may win out as technology becomes more complex. Maintaining expertise and depth for all the IT components in an environment can be resource-intensive.

Outsourced solutions allow IT teams to shift some of their focus from maintaining infrastructure to getting more value out of existing systems, increasing data analytics, and better linking technology to business objectives. The same can be applied to revenue cycle outsourcing, shifting the focus from getting clean bills out and cash coming in, to looking at the financial health of the organization, analyzing service lines, patient experience, or advancing projects.  

Once you’ve decided, there’s another question you need to ask
Lost sometimes in the discussion of whether to use outsourced services is how. Even after you’ve done your due diligence and chosen a great vendor, you need to stay involved. It can be easy to think, “Vendor XYZ is monitoring our servers or our days in AR, so we should be all set. I can stop worrying at night about our system reliability or our cash flow.” Not true.

You may be outsourcing a component of your technology environment or collections, but you are not outsourcing the accountability for it—from an internal administrative standpoint or (in many cases) from a legal standpoint.

Beware of a false state of confidence
No matter how clear the expectations and rules of engagement with your vendor at the onset of a partnership, circumstances can change—regulatory updates, technology advancements, and old-fashioned vendor neglect. In hiring the vendor, you are accountable for oversight of the partnership. Be actively engaged in the ongoing execution of the services. Also, periodically revisit the contract, make sure the vendor is following all terms, and confirm (with an outside audit, when appropriate) that you are getting the services you need.

Take, for example, server monitoring, which applies to every organization or company, large or small, with data on a server. When a managed service vendor wants to contract with you to provide monitoring services, the vendor’s salesperson will likely assure you that you need not worry about the stability of your server infrastructure, that the monitoring will catch issues before they occur, and that any issues that do arise will be resolved before the end user is impacted. Ideally, this is true, but you need to confirm.

Here’s how to stay involved with your vendor
Ask lots of questions. There’s never a question too small. Here are samples of how precisely you should drill down:

  • What metrics will be monitored, specifically?
  • Why do the metrics being monitored matter to our own business objectives?
  • What thresholds must be met to notify us or produce an alert?
  • What does exceeding a threshold mean to our business?
  • Who on our team will be notified if an alert is warranted?
  • What corrective action will be taken?

Ask uncomfortable questions
Being willing to ask challenging questions of your vendors, even when you are not an expert, is critical. You may feel uncomfortable but asking vendors to explain something to you in terms you understand is very reasonable. They’re the experts; you’re not expected to already understand every detail or you wouldn’t have needed to hire them. It’s their job to explain it to you. Without asking these questions, you may end up with a fairly generic solution that does produce a service or monitor something, but not necessarily all the things you need.

Ask obvious questions
You don’t want anything to slip by simply because you or the vendor took it for granted. It is common to assume that more is being done by a vendor than actually is. By asking even obvious questions, you can avoid this trap. All too often we conduct an IT assessment and are told that a vendor is providing a service, only to discover that the tasks are not happening as expected.

You are accountable for your whole team—in-house and outsourced members
An outsourced solution is an extension of your team. Taking an active and engaged role in an outsourcing partnership remains consistent with your management responsibilities. At the end of the day, management is responsible for achieving business objectives and mission. Regularly check in to make sure that the vendor stays focused on that same mission.

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Oxymoron of the month: Outsourced accountability

Read this if your organization, business, or institution has leases and you’ve been eagerly awaiting and planning for the implementation of the new lease standards.

Ready? Set? Not yet. As we have prepared for and experienced delays related to Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Accounting Standards Codification Topic 842, Leases, we thought the time had finally come for implementation. With the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to everyone, the FASB recognizes the significant impact COVID-19 has brought to commercial businesses and not-for-profits and is proposing a one-year delay in implementation, as described in this article posted to the Journal of Accountancy: FASB effective date delay proposals to include private company lease accounting.

But what about lease concessions? We all recognize many lessors are making concessions due to the pandemic. Under current guidance in Topics 840 and 842, changes to lease contracts that were not included in the original lease are generally accounted for as lease modifications and, therefore, a separate contract. This would require remeasurement of the new lease contract and related right-of-use asset. FASB recognized this issue and has published a FASB Staff Questions and Answers (Q&A) Document,  Topic 842 and Topic 840: Accounting for Lease Concessions Related to the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Under this new guidance, if lease concessions are made relating to COVID-19, entities do not need to analyze each contract to determine if a new contract has been entered into, and will have the option to apply, or not to apply, the lease modification provisions of Topics 840 and 842.

Implementation of the lease accounting standard will most likely be delayed for Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) entities as well. On April 15, 2020, the GASB issued an exposure draft that would delay most GASB statements and implementation guides due to be implemented for fiscal years 2019 and later. Most notably, this includes Statement 84, Fiduciary Activities, and Statement 87, Leases. Comments on the proposal will be accepted through April 30, and the board plans to consider a final statement for issuance on May 8. More information may be found in this article from the Journal of Accountancy: GASB proposes postponing effective dates due to pandemic.

More information

Whether you are a FASB or GASB entity, you can expect a delay in the implementation of the lease standard. If you have questions, please contact a member of our financial statement audit team. For other COVID-19 related resources, please refer to BerryDunn’s COVID-19 Resources Page.

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FASB and GASB news: Postponement of the lease accounting standards

Read this if you work at a public health department and would like a brief summary of how you can maximize funding and meet new federal requirements.

Unpacking the trillions

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several pieces of legislation were passed by congress and signed into law. The three bills, H.R. 6074 Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and H.R. 748 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, have provided funding for various federal agencies with different roles in responding to the crisis. Because of the urgency required, much of the guidance for use of funds and reporting requirements were released after passage of the bills or have yet to be released.

Here is a brief timeline and summary of the acts:

Implication and next steps for state public health departments

While little guidance has been provided for how state public health departments should prepare to access federal funds, BerryDunn will continue to monitor and release updates as they become available. 

While at this point HR 6074 has the greatest implications for public health departments, here are some actions that states should take now for their public health programs from the recent legislation:

  1. H.R. 6074: Provides appropriations to the CDC to be allocated to states for COVID-19 expenses.
    • To ensure maximum funding, prepare a spend plan to submit to CDC.
    • To ensure compliance, provide CDC with copies or access to COVID-19 data collected with these funds.
    • To maximize the impact of new funding, develop a COVID-19 community intervention plan.
    • To support streamlined operations, submit revised work plans to CDC.
    • To prevent missed deadlines, submit any requests for deadline extensions to the CDC.
  2. H.R. 6201: Provides guidance specific to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs.
    • To encourage social distancing and loosen administrative requirements, seek waivers through the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).
    • To ensure compliance, prepare to submit a report summarizing the use of waivers on population outcomes by March 2021.
  3. H.R. 748: Allocates $150 billion to a coronavirus relief fund for state, local, and tribal governments.
  • To secure funding, monitor the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) for guidance on using funds for:
    • Coronavirus prevention and preparation
    • Tools to build health data infrastructure
    • COVID-19 Public Health Emergency expenses
    • Developing countermeasures and vaccines for coronavirus
    • Telehealth and rural health activities
       
  • To ensure HIPAA compliance when sharing protected patient health information, monitor the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) for guidance.

For more information

For specific issues your agency has, or if you have other questions, please contact us. We’re here to help. 

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COVID-19 laws and their impact on state public health agencies

Read this if you would like a refresher of common-sense approaches to protect against fraud while working remotely.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has imposed many challenges upon us physically, mentally, and financially. Directly or indirectly, we all are affected by the outbreak of this life-threatening disease. Anxious times like this provide perfect opportunities for fraudsters. The fraud triangle is a model commonly used to explain the three components that may cause someone to commit fraud when they occur together:

  1. Financial pressure/motivation 
    In March 2020, the unemployment rate increased by 0.9 percent to 4.4 percent, and the number of unemployed persons rose by 1.4 million to 7.1 million.
  2. Perceived opportunity to commit fraud 
    Many people are online all day, providing more opportunities for internet crime. People are also desperate for something, from masks and hand sanitizers to coronavirus immunization and cures, which do not yet exist. 
  3. Rationalization 
    People use their physical, mental, or financial hardship to justify their unethical behaviors.

To combat the increasing coronavirus-related fraud and crime, the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a national coronavirus fraud task force on March 23, 2020. It focuses on the detection, investigation, and prosecution of fraudulent activity, hoarding, and price gouging related to medical resources needed to respond to the coronavirus. US attorney’s offices are also forming local task forces where federal, state, and local law enforcement work together to combat the coronavirus related crimes. Things are changing fast, and the DOJ has daily updates on the task force activities. 

Increased awareness for increased threats

Given the increase in fraudulent activity during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important for employees now working from home to be aware of ways to protect themselves and their companies and prevent the spread of fraud. Here are some of the top COVID-19-related fraud schemes to be aware of. 

  • Phishing emails regarding virus information, general financial relief, stimulus payments, and airline carrier refunds
  • Fake charities requesting donations for illegitimate or non-existent organizations 
  • Supply scams including fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell supplies in high demand but then never providing the supplies and keeping the money 
  • Website and app scams that share COVID-19 related information and then insert malware that could compromise the device and your personal information
  • Price gouging and hoarding of scarce products
  • Robocalls or scammers asking for personal information or selling of testing, cures, and essential equipment
  • Zoom bombing and teleconference hacking

If you have encountered suspicious activity listed above, please report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Staying vigilant

To protect yourself from these threats, remember to use proper security measures and follow these tips provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and DOJ:

  • Verify the identity of the company, charity, or individual that attempts to contact you in regards to COVID-19.
  • Do not send money to any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. 
  • Understand the features of your teleconference platform and utilize private meetings with a unique code or password that is not shared publicly.
  • Do not open attachments or click links within emails from senders you do not recognize.
  • Do not provide your username, password, date of birth, social security number, insurance information, financial data, or other personal information in response to an email or robocall.
  • Always verify the web address of legitimate websites and manually type them into your browser.
  • Check for misspellings or wrong domains within a link (for example, an address that should end in a ".gov" ends in .com" instead).

Stay aware, and stay informed. If you have specific concerns or questions, or would like more information, please contact our team. We’re here to help.
 

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COVID-19 and fraud―a security measures refresher

Read this if you are a Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Risk Officer, Chief Information Officer, or Controller.

While COVID-19 has forced many of us into a remote work environment, we also have to deal with the challenges that come along with it. The stark contrast between an office environment and one that potentially involves working in isolation can be a difficult adjustment. Office kitchen conversations have evolved into conversations with pets, our newest co-workers. A quick, in-person question has now turned into an email, phone, or video call. And job responsibilities expand as we try to not only juggle work but also ensure our children focus on school work―and don’t destroy the house. 

Not only has this forced environment caused social challenges, it has also opened the door for internal control challenges, as  internal controls designed to operate effectively in an office environment may not be ideal for a remote workplace. Even ones that are appropriately designed, may prove to be operating ineffectively in this new environment. Let’s take a look at some internal control challenges, and potential solutions, faced by working in a remote environment.

Establishing a remote control environment

Exercising appropriate tone at the top and establishing appropriate oversight can be challenging with a remote workforce. Ethics and governance policies play an important role in setting clear expectations about workplace behaviors. But, a workforce is much more apt to follow a leadership team’s example rather than a policy. All of those office conversations, even the conversations that are not work related, help set an expectation of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. These conversations often happen naturally in the office via a quick conversation in passing in the hallway or a late-Friday happy hour with your department. However, these interactions do not naturally occur in a remote workplace. Leadership and department heads should make an active effort to maintain communication with their workforce. Some things to consider:

  • Send out weekly emails to the entire department and possibly more personal, one-on-one videoconferences or phone calls between your department heads or managers and individual members of their teams.
  • These department-wide emails should stress the importance of communication as well as continuing to produce high quality work and maintaining accountability. 
  • One-on-one meetings should be used to check in with employees to ensure their work needs are being met. 

Employees will most likely have many suggestions to improve their new work environment, including suggestions on how to improve communication amongst team members. 

The power of video

Videoconferencing also provides a great opportunity to stay connected. Virtual happy hours simulate an in-person happy hour. This is a great way to check-in with team members and show that, although people are out of sight, they are not out of mind. Town hall-type meetings can also be explored. Your leadership team can solicit open discussion. Agenda items may include office status updates, technological considerations, and an opportunity for employees to openly discuss current challenges due to working in a remote environment. Employees are going to have anxiety about the current environment. These meetings can help put employees at ease.

Risk assessment

Internal control environments are constantly evolving. Employees leave. Software is updated.  Offered services and products change. The list goes on. However, it is unprecedented that an internal control environment has changed so rapidly. Given these unprecedented times, there is potential for higher risk of fraud, internally and externally. Those responsible for designing internal controls (control owners) should reassess your company’s environment. Although internal controls can be designed in a manner in which they operate effectively regardless of the circumstances, it is possible there are unintended changes to processes that have occurred. 

For instance, let’s say the employee responsible for reviewing loan file maintenance changes is now working an alternative work schedule due to personal obligations. This employee does not have the ability to make loan file changes; therefore, segregation of duties has never been an issue. An employee within loan servicing has agreed to take some of the employee’s responsibilities and is now reviewing some of the loan file maintenance changes, which has put this employee in a position to review some of their own changes. 

Furthermore, some internal controls that require employees be at a physical location to operate may also be compromised, such as inventory cycle counts. If these controls are unable to operate, control owners will need to consider the impacts on the affected transaction areas, and if there are compensating controls that can be designed to alleviate some of the control risk.

Control activities

Accounts payable and check signing

The accounts payable and cash disbursement process will most likely be upended as a result of your new remote environment. Bills received through the mail will need to be scanned to the accounts payable clerk for entry into the accounting system. Some offices have designated certain personnel responsible for checking mail on an infrequent basis, for instance, weekly. Check signing may also prove to be a challenge as blank check stock may be inaccessible. Electronic receipt of invoices and signing of checks, as well as the use of wire and ACH transfers, lend themselves as feasible solutions. Email approvals may suffice when multiple signers are needed to approve high dollar disbursements.

Segregation of duties

As mentioned above, it is possible processes have inadvertently changed, exposing certain internal controls to ineffectiveness. Segregation of duties may become difficult as employees shift to alternative work schedules or have other issues. Maintaining segregation of duties should be a top priority for control owners and is something that should be constantly assessed as circumstances change. Challenging times may make segregation of duties difficult and may force you to get creative by requesting employees perform duties they are not otherwise accustomed to performing.

Digital sign-offs

You should also consider the manner in which you document the completion of controls. Control owners should be cautious about the integrity of an employee’s initials simply typed onto a digital document, as any employee can perform this task. Digital signatures, which require an employee to enter credentials prior to signing, enhance the integrity of a sign-off and are often time stamped. Digital signatures may also “lock down” the document, prohibiting any changes to the signed document.

Timely review

Given the circumstances, it is not unreasonable that preparation and review may take longer than under normal circumstances. Even if additional time is granted for the preparation and review of documents, you should consider the implications this has on the transaction class as a whole. The longer it takes to complete a control, the greater the consequences may be if you identify an error. For instance, the impact of an incorrect change to a loan rate index can be substantial if not identified timely. If identified quickly, you can avoid consequences later.

Information and communication

For many companies that have moved from a paper to a digital environment, sharing of information should not be an issue. However, for those that still operate in a mostly paper environment, performing tasks and sharing information with team members may prove to be difficult. And, those without the capability of scanning and sending documents from home could compromise a specific internal control altogether. Being forced to work remotely may be the perfect excuse to move paper processes into a digital format.

Monitoring

Monitoring your internal control environment is of the utmost importance given these significant changes. Frequent conversations should be had with control owners to ensure changes to processes do not render controls ineffective. Identified gaps in internal controls should be addressed proactively. Provide control owners with the opportunity to discuss changes to control processes with Internal Audit or Risk Management so such departments can consider the impact of changes on internal control. This also gives these departments the opportunity to cover any resulting gaps.

Permanent changes

Once the remote workplace requirements end, the effects of working in such an environment will not. There are many benefits and efficiencies to be found in working remotely. As people have now been forced to work in such an environment, they will be more apt to continue to do so. Therefore, let’s take this opportunity to revise processes and internal controls to be “remote workplace” compatible. This will provide a long-lasting impact to your organization far beyond the pandemic. 
 

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How does your control environment look in a remote world?

Read this if you are a police executive, city/county administrator, or elected government official, responsible for a law enforcement agency. 

“We need more cops!”  

Do your patrol officers complain about being short-staffed or too busy, or that they are constantly running from call to call? Does your agency struggle with backed-up calls for service (CFS) or lengthy response times? Do patrol staff regularly find themselves responding to another patrol area to handle a CFS because the assigned officer is busy on another call? Are patrol officers denied leave time or training opportunities because of staffing issues? Does the agency routinely use overtime to cover predictable shift vacancies for vacations, holidays, or training? 

If one or more of these concerns sound familiar, you may need additional patrol resources, as staffing levels are often a key factor in personnel deployment challenges. Flaws in the patrol schedule design may also be responsible, as they commonly contribute to reduced efficiency and optimal performance, and design issues may be partially responsible for some of these challenges, regardless of authorized staffing levels.
 
With community expectations at an all-time high, and resource allocations remaining relatively flat, many agencies have growing concerns about managing increasing service volumes while controlling quality and building/maintaining public trust and confidence. Amid these concerns, agencies struggle with designing work schedules that efficiently and optimally deploy available patrol resources, as patrol staff become increasingly frustrated at what they consider a lack of staff.

The path to resolving inefficiencies in your patrol work schedule and optimizing the effective deployment of patrol personnel requires thoughtful consideration of several overarching goals:

  • Reducing or eliminating predictable overtime
  • Eliminating peaks and valleys in staffing due to scheduled leave
  • Ensuring appropriate staffing levels in all patrol zones or beats
  • Providing sufficient staff to manage multiple and priority CFS in patrol zones or beats
  • Satisfying both operational and staff needs, including helping to ensure a proper work/life balance and equitable workloads for patrol staff

Scheduling alternatives

One common design issue that presents an ongoing challenge for agencies is the continued use of traditional, balanced work schedules, which spread officer work hours equally over the year. Balanced schedules rely on over-scheduling and overtime to manage personnel allocation and leave needs and, by design, are very rigid. Balanced work schedules have been used for a very long time, not because they’re most efficient, but because they’re common, familiar, and easily understood―and because patrol staff are comfortable with them (and typically reluctant to change). However, short schedules offer a proven alternative to balanced patrol work schedules, and when presented with the benefits of an alternative work schedule design (e.g., increased access to back-up, ease of receiving time off or training, consistency in staffing, less mandatory overtime), many patrol staff are eager to change.

Short schedules

Short schedules involve a more contemporary design that includes a flexible approach that focuses on a more adaptive process of allocating personnel where and when they are needed. They are significantly more efficient than balanced schedules and, when functioning properly, they can dramatically improve personnel deployments, bring continuity to daily staffing, and reduce overtime, among other operational benefits. Given the current climate, most agencies are unlikely to receive substantial increases in personnel allocations. If that is true of your agency, it may be time to explore the benefits of alternative patrol work schedules.

A tool you can use

Finding scheduling strategies that work in this climate requires an intentional approach, customized to your agency’s characteristics (e.g., staffing levels, geographic factors, crime rates, zone/beat design, contract/labor rules). To help guide you through this process, BerryDunn has developed a free tool for evaluating patrol schedules. Click here to measure your patrol schedule against key design components and considerations.

If you are curious about alternative patrol work schedules, our dedicated justice and public Safety consultants are available to discuss your organization’s needs.

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Efficient police patrol work schedules―By design