by Jordan Roberts
Director of Government Affairs, John Locke Foundation
Earlier this week I posted on the blog about a report from WBTV’s Nick Ochsner detailing some documents which showed that UNC Health, a state-owned hospital, had paid nearly $60,000 in taxpayer money to fund a dark money group which represents hospital interests statewide:
CHAPEL HILL, NC (WBTV) – The UNC Hospitals system wrote a check from a state account in January of this year that, in part, was intended to fund a dark money political organization, records obtained by WBTV show.
UNC Hospitals paid $58,633 in early January 2019 as part of a special assessment levied by the North Carolina Healthcare Association that was specifically earmarked to contribute to a 501(c)(4) group affiliated with NCHA called Partners for Innovation in Healthcare.
A spokesperson from UNC Health told Ochsner that this was a mistake and the payment was “inadvertent.” However, a new report from WBTV revealed that it was, in fact, the CFO, Chris Ellington, who signed off on the payment from UNC Health:
On Monday, hospital spokesman Alan Wolf said the contribution had been made ‘inadvertently’ and said the hospital had requested–and received–its contribution to the NCHA back.
“From what I understand, it was simply an error, and (thanks to your email) we have corrected that error,” Wolf said in an email Monday.
But Wolf wouldn’t explain how the money was accidentally paid and, specifically, wouldn’t identify whose signature was at the bottom of an invoice from the NCHA approving that it be paid.
“I don’t recognize the signature, but I will check around,” Wolf told a WBTV reporter who took a screenshot of the signature, embedded it in an email and asked Wolf to identify who approved the expense.
Wolf never followed-up with an answer on whose signature was at the bottom of the invoice.
But, when asked on Thursday, Wolf did confirm the signature belonged to Chris Ellington, executive vice president and chief executive officer of UNC Hospitals and president of UNC Health Care Network hospitals.
“I have confirmed it was Chris Ellington’s signature,” Wolf said. “As I stated the other day, it was paid in error. We are happy to have it rectified and be refunded.”
Wolf still did not explain how Ellington erroneously approved the contribution. He did not provide any additional comment for this story.
As I said in the blog before, hospitals provide crucial services for our state’s citizens. However, using taxpayer money for lobbying is far beyond the scope of a state hospital.