Mayor John Cranley: Health Gap audit will be done 'as soon as possible'

CINCINNATI -- Mayor John Cranley said the city might re-examine how it helps low-income and minority residents get access to health care following a WCPO investigation into the nonprofit Center for Closing the Health Gap.

Cranley vowed Thursday that an internal audit looking at how the Health Gap used a $1 million city grant would be “completed as soon as possible.”

His statements came just hours after a WCPO report revealed the Health Gap used a majority of its city funding to pay for employee salaries and benefits, consulting, advertising and subcontract work. The report also found the Health Gap was not meeting some of the standards, such as keeping 11 healthy corner stores running across Cincinnati, required in its contract with the city. 

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The Health Gap says its mission is to help fix minority health disparities in Cincinnati and “improve disease prevention while promoting healthier eating and enhancing quality of life.” 

In addition to the city audit of the Health Gap’s spending, Cranley said the city might explore other options to fund minority health disparity programming. The city has given more than $3.8 million to the Health Gap over the last decade.

“There are serious disparities in health outcomes between white and black and it’s an injustice that we, as a community, have to tackle,” Cranley said Thursday evening in an interview with WCPO. “We need to continue to do that. The question is just making sure we do it in a way that protects the taxpayer, and is the most efficient.”

Supporters of the nonprofit promised to fight back against the city’s investigation into the Health Gap or attempts to cut its city funding.

Hundreds gathered Thursday night at Woodward High School for a town hall meeting hosted by the political activist group The Black Agenda. The group was co-founded by Health Gap president Dwight Tillery. 

The meeting was meant to address a series of property violations city leaders handed out to homeowners in the Mount Auburn community and the “state of black neighborhoods.”

But speakers also touted the Health Gap’s work and questioned the scrutiny the Health Gap is receiving from local media.

“Of all the groups that receive funding from the city of Cincinnati, two media outlets make a decision that they’re going to investigate one of the black groups,” Bishop Bobby Hilton, president of the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network, told the crowd.

He added: “The Center for Closing the Health Gap has done great things in the city and the county. They have saved and rescued countless lives, getting better health results.”

WCPO examined the city’s nonprofit spending after council passed a resolution in January calling for more oversight on charities that benefit from local taxpayer dollars. A copy of that resolution can be found here

The Health Gap stood out. 

It receives more money than most other local nonprofits and has enjoyed significant bumps in city cash in recent years. Even as other local nonprofits lost funding from the city or were cut out entirely, the city has awarded the Health Gap with steady increases.

The Center for Closing the Health Gap receives more city funding than most other nonprofits in the city.

A bulk of the city’s grant – $737,500 – goes to salaries and benefits for 11 Health Gap employees.

Cincinnati City Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned how much the city is spending on the nonprofit’s staff.

“If you look at the contract, why is the city paying for the chief financial officer’s salary out of the grant?” Flynn said in an interview last month. "Why are they paying for half of the executive director’s salary? Why are they paying for the receptionist’s salary? And who are all of the outreach people and what are they actually doing?”

Tillery, the Health Gap’s president, had planned to hold a press conference Monday in response to the city’s investigation, but canceled it Friday afternoon. 

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