By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — The Kenney administration’s Department of Public Health failed to properly vet Philly Fighting COVID (PFC) before partnering with the group of self-described “college kids” and overlooked several red flags about the group, according to a new report.
The report from city Inspector General Alexander DeSantis, released Monday, found the city’s Department of Public Health made several missteps in its haste to respond to the coronavirus pandemic that led to the bungled partnership with PFC for virus testing and vaccine distribution, such as lacking a formal written city contract with the firm.
“Simply put, there is no question that the City of Philadelphia should never have been so closely aligned with PFC,” according to the report.
The report said city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley was “disconnected and uninformed” about his department’s relationship with Philly Fighting COVID because Farley delegated that responsibility to ex-acting Deputy Health Commissioner Caroline Johnson, who resigned in January over her role in the partnership.
But the inspector general’s report stopped short of recommending any discipline against city employees or officials for misconduct, including Farley. The inspector general’s investigation remains ongoing.
PFC has received $111,405 from the city to date for coronavirus testing from a contract through Philadelphia Mental Health Care Corporation. The group performed a total of 15,968 coronavirus tests.
DeSantis said on Monday that the city’s decision to partner with PFC for a mass vaccination clinic was a “significant failure.”
“There was virtually no vetting, no research, no investigations, no — as I said before — formal evaluation and that is, yes, very problematic,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said that Andrei Doroshin, PFC’s founder and a graduate student at Drexel University, declined to participate in the inspector general’s investigation on the advice of his lawyers. The city cut ties with PFC in January.
The report recommended health department officials conduct more training for all employees involved in the department’s contracting process; potentially use more operational personnel; and publicly post vaccine distribution data detailing specific doses distributed among different city providers.
Mayor Jim Kenney, who called for the report last month, said he accepted the findings and recommendations of the inspector general’s report following the report’s release. The mayor also reiterated his support for Farley — “I know that he is now fully connected and informed.”
“This was a case of bad decisions being made in the midst of a lengthy and constantly evolving crisis and a top manager should have been more directly involved,” Kenney said during a news conference alongside Farley.
Farley admitted that the city’s partnership with PFC “really has hurt the reputation of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.”
Farley said fallout from the partnership has led to several changes in the health department, including expanding the committee that reviews requests for proposals for vaccination services.
The inspector general’s 30-day report provided the most detailed accounting of the decisions that led up to the city’s partnership with PFC. Investigators interviewed 47 people, the majority of which were city employees and city contractors.
Among the top issues that led to the city tapping PFC to hold vaccination clinics was the Kenney administration’s policy decision to use external entities to vaccinate unaffiliated health care workers, the report found.
“This policy initiated a series of operational decisions that were obscured and violative of the fundamental principles of public contracting,” according to the report.
The health department also had no standards to evaluate PFC’s work because the city lacked a formal contract or any written agreement with the firm, according to the report.
PFC had the lowest reporting percentage for required demographic data of the population it tested “by a significant margin,” the report found. The firm provided the data for race, age and gender for approximately 32% of the total tests the company performed on average.
The city also missed a “red flag” when PFC’s initial chief medical officer resigned prior to the group’s first scheduled vaccine clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in January, the report found.
The former chief medical officer informed the health department he had resigned from his role and repeatedly urged the department do conduct a deeper vetting of the organization and Doroshin, “expressing concerns about the firm’s stability and leadership,” according to the report. “This was a serious red flag that should not have been ignored,” the report said.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.