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PHN still mum: Officials decline comment on whether investigation is interfering with care

The Herald - 2/16/2020

Feb. 16--Primary Health Network officials declined to comment again this week on news that the nonprofit health organization has been subpoenaed in a federal investigation.

After numerous attempts to contact PHN Chief Executive Director Drew Pierce and Marketing Director Sara Rupp since the subpoenas were issued late last month, Rupp acknowledged The Herald's request for information Tuesday.

She requested a list of written questions, which she said would then be discussed with Pierce and PHN board president Thomas Burich before issuing a response.

Rupp responded to the questions Wednesday in an email that read, "Official PHN Response: There are no updates to statements made last week."

The statements made last week were a "no comment" response from Pierce regarding the nature of the federal subpoenas.

In addition to not elaborating on the nature of the subpoenas, PHN refused to comment on whether the federal investigation has interfered in any way with the care provided to patients; if it has restricted services, billing or receipt of funding; or whether there are pending grant applications or awards that have been put on hold or delayed in any way because of the inquiry.

PHN also refused to comment on why PHN and Charitable Foundation board members were not immediately notified of the federal subpoenas issued on Jan. 29.

Burich confirmed at roughly 4 p.m.Jan. 31 that PHN and its associated organization, the PHN Charitable Foundation, each received a subpoena, but said he only learned of the subpoenas one hour earlier.

PHN board secretary and Hermitage School District Superintendent Dan Bell was contacted by The Herald at about 3 p.m.Jan. 31 and said he was unaware of the federal agents' visit to PHN.

PHN board member Nanda Chuwan said he did not learn of the subpoenas until the weekend after they were issued. He added that he did not know specific details of the federal subpoenas, but expected to learn more about them at the board's monthly meeting this week.

Don Perry, president of the Charitable Foundation board, said he also had little information regarding the subpoenas.

"We don't really know anything yet," he said. "But we'll let you know if there's an update."

He added that PHN's work will continue.

"We're part of the community," he said. "We're seeing 32,000 patients per month throughout the state of Pennsylvania and one county in Ohio. We help people, and we are going to continue to help people."

In addition to Burich, Bell, Chuwan and Perry, calls were also placed to Charitable Foundation board member and Penn State Shenango President Jo Anne Carrick, PHN board treasurer Doug Nasci and board member Thomas Scott, who also works as the chief executive officer at Lawrence County Community Action Partnership.

Nasci refused to comment on the federal investigation. Phone calls to Carrick and Scott were not returned.

Burich said in a phone call last week that he expects the process to play out over an extended period of time.

"This isn't something that is going to be taken care of in a few days," Burich said on Feb. 7. "I think this is going to be a process that could take months."

Federal authorities continue to say they cannot comment -- and will not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

WHAT WE ASKED:

The Herald submitted these questions this week to PHN officials:

-- How many subpoenas were issued to Primary Health Network and PHN Charitable Foundation?

-- Who were the individuals named on the subpoenas?

-- What physical property was taken from the PHN and PHN Charitable Foundation as a result of or in conjunction with the subpoenas?

-- What was the nature of the information that was requested -- general financial, grant monies, PHN or foundation assets?

-- When was PHN first notified of the federal investigation?

-- What are Primary Health Network's plans to communicate with the community and patients regarding the investigation?

-- Why was the board not immediately notified about the subpoenas? Have all members of both boards now been updated?

-- Will there be a statement from the board and/or PHN after the PHN board meeting?

-- CEO Drew Pierce has made no public comment since the federal agents' visit. When can we expect to be able to speak to him or other PHN executives directly related to the administration and management of federal funding?

-- Is this investigation in any way interfering with the care provided to patients? Has it restricted services, billing or receipt of funding?

-- Which Primary Health Network operations receive the largest amount of federal funding?

-- Are there any pending grant applications or awards that have been put on hold or delayed in any way because of the inquiry?

-- Has Primary Health Network received any notification of delays in receipt of federal or state funding because of the investigation?

-- What is the percentage of private donations vs. public money (federal and state grants) in Primary Health Network's funding mix?

-- What percentage of PHN's income is allotted to salaries of doctors, administration and support staff?

-- Why did PHN ask for written questions?

BOARD MEMBERS

PHN board members include:

-- Thomas Burich, president

-- Doug Nasci, treasurer

-- Dan Bell, secretary

-- Deborah McCanna

-- Daniel Blough

-- Nanda Chuwan

-- Tawona Jones

-- Anthony Kos

-- Thomas Scott

-- Helen "Wendi" Wheeler

-- Drew Pierce

Charitable Foundation board members include:

-- Don Perry, president

-- Pamela Hudson

-- Bonnie Dickson

-- Drew Pierce

-- Steve Sant

-- Bill Hillgrove

-- Deborah McCanna

-- Jack Laeng

-- Jo Anne Carrick

-- Dan Bell

Herald Staff Writer Melissa Klaric contributed to this report.

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