D.C. Department of Human Resources director Albert P. Russo is contesting a U.S. Department of Agriculture claim that the city agency should pay the full costs of USDA food products found spoiled in a DHR warehouse.
USDA contends that the products, canned green beans, canned plums and dehydrated potatoes valued at $57,097.72, were stored improperly and allowed to spoil.
Russo said he was written to R. Hicks Elmore, the Mid-Atlantic regional administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, asking USDA to respond to 26 specific points regarding shipment of the food. They include the dates the products were shipped to DHR, shipping conditions, prior storage conditions, shelf life of the products and packaging by the manufacturer.
Russo said he requested the information after a recent letter from Elmore suggested that the contamination of 5,500 cases of green beans, which had been stored in the DHR warehouse and were valued at $31,290.72, might have been the fault of the manufacturer.
According to Elmore's letter, a September 1977 memo from a USDA inspector indicated that some of the canned products had "failed applicable U.S. standards for condition of food containers." Swollen cans failing to pass inspection in 1977 "presumably resulted from over-filling at the cannery," the letter said.USDA later authorized the green beans to be destroyed because they feared the cans would explode, Elmore's letter said.
Nonetheless, the letter said, USDA justified its claim that the city owed it the full cost of the products based on a March 1978 inspection report that the DHR warehouse, where the food had been stored for 2 1/2 years, showed heavy flaking of paint from the ceiling, rodent infestation, broken glass in or around some boxes and broken windows, allowing rain to penetrate the boxes.
Russo announced DHR's latest response to the USDA allegation at the weekly DHR press conference.
Other announcements included renovation plans at a DHR alcoholic rehabilitation center in Virginia, the relocation of a ciaty venereal disease clinic, a report on a welfare department project and plans by the District to monitor the out-patient surgical clinics in the city.
Renovation plans at the Rehabilitation Center for Alcoholics (RCA), in Occoquan, will include roof repairs, the installation of air conditioning, new kitchen equipment and dining room redecoration.
Approximately 445 patients who live at the multiunit center and 175 residents of an adjacent, minimum-security correction facility eat in the dining hall daily through arrangements made by DHR.
Russo also said the Southeast venereal disease clinic, now temporarily sharing offices with the DHR chest clinic at 1905 E St. SE, will move to permanent, renovated quarters in the same building within two weeks.
Clinic services are provided on a walk-in basis, 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, to persons at least 12 years old, without parental consent. The clinic and a unit at 1325 Upshur St. NW serve about 30,000 people a year, said Dr. Vedat Oner, director of the Bureau of Preventive Services.
During the press conference, DHR also provided statistics concerning an efficiency project started several months ago with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The project, known as the Urban Technical Assistance Redetermination project, is designed to help DHR lower error rates in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) cases. The specialized system provides a check and balance system for caseworkers by assigning each worker to a particular task that is then checked by another worker.
Staff for the project include the welfare department division chief, two supervisors, 12 reviewers, four case readers and 10 clerical workers.
Workers focus on seven AFDC eligibility items where errors usually occur. Each worker is then assigned a special duty, such as reading a case, to determine a client's eligibility. Previously one person handled the entire process alone.
"It puts responsibility for clerical functions on clerical people, and decision-making in the hands of professionals," said HEW official Anthony Salvi, who is assisting DHR with the project.
In the seven months the project has been underway, 1,774 cases have been reviewed out of 5,074 cases assigned to the project. Of these, 257 were found to be ineligible, 169 were being overpaid, 74 were underpaid and 91 had administrative errors, such as a wrong home address for an eligible client.
Concerning the out-patient surgical clinics, Russo said DHR is planning to hire additional staff members to monitor pre and post-operative care of patients at approximately 12 surgical clinics in the District.
DHR staff members monitoring the clinics will review patient medical records to determine if clients are adequately informed about operation procedures and what they should expect during recovery.