AUDITORS EMPLOYED by the D.C. Health Department are busy trying to learn how Greater Southeast Community Hospital spent $37.2 million it received from the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, the private network created by the mayor and financial control board to handle health care for the city's indigent. This much is known: The Healthcare Alliance itself received more than $81 million from city taxpayers to cover the contract year running from June 1, 2001, to May 31, 2002. The money trail to Greater Southeast, however, can be followed only up to a point. Thus there is a basis for interest in the health auditor's work.

According to documents provided by health care sources and confirmed yesterday by Acting Health Department Director James A. Buford, Greater Southeast Community Hospital received more than $22 million for "health services," $1.4 million for "administrative services," nearly $10 million for "access maintenance costs" at D.C. General Hospital and $3.7 million for "corrections services" for the contract year ending in May. As of yesterday, however, only about $16 million of "health services" claims provided by Greater Southeast have been documented. About $6 million remains undocumented. Mr. Buford acknowledged as much in an interview, noting that a reconciliation of payments and claims to Greater Southeast, due in August under terms of the contract, has not been completed. The delay, Mr. Buford said, was caused by Greater Southeast's failure to get all of the required documents to the department's auditors. He assured us that the reconciliation is now underway and should be completed by Dec. 10.

Health care sources suggest that the flow of more than $40 million from the Healthcare Alliance account to other key players in the Alliance seems free of trouble. Perhaps the reconciliation will show a similar result for Greater Southeast. However, given the current crisis and uncertainty about the fate of Greater Southeast -- the only acute-care general hospital east of the Anacostia River -- some answers should be forthcoming, and soon.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams maintains that the D.C. Healthcare Alliance is healthy and safely insulated from the financial woes of Greater Southeast. That, however, answers only part of our concern. D.C. taxpayers also need to know whether their dollars have bought health care for the uninsured as promised by the mayor or if city funds have been used for purposes never intended or authorized. The long-overdue reconciliation of Greater Southeast's use of those public funds may help settle that crucial question -- or at least shed light on where the money has gone.