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State audit: University of Iowa cancer patient gifts, donations missing and misused
Audit ties former UIHC employee to potential abuses
IOWA CITY — Over $17,000 in donations and gifts meant for University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics patients — largely for those diagnosed with cancer — and families were unaccounted for, improperly used, unsupported or missing, the state auditor said in a report released Tuesday.
Questions around former administrative specialist Anna Maria Hernandez’s handling of donations, gift cards and purchases prompted hospital officials to call on the auditor to investigate the UIHC Care Coordination Division in February 2021, according to auditor’s office spokeswoman Sonya Heitshusen.
Hernandez, 41, of Iowa City, had been the division’s administrative services specialist since July 1, 2018, but assumed many titles since starting there in 2006. When a staff member in August 2020 told Hernandez about $1,350 in missing gift cards, Hernandez instructed the staffer “not to report it to the university’s Department of Public Safety.” After that same staff member determined Hernandez had removed $100 from a petty cash fund in October 2020 without leaving a receipt, the division dug deeper and found incomplete and missing gift card records, according to the audit report.
Administrators contacted UI police and put Hernandez on paid administrative leave Nov. 18, 2020. Hernandez resigned Nov. 30, 2020, and the state launched its audit into possible misappropriation of funds from Aug. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2020.
‘Regularly worked from home’
Although Hernandez didn’t provide many answers to the auditor’s office about discrepancies, she did on one occasion blame her ex-boyfriend for logging on to her laptop — as she “regularly worked from home” — and making improper payments and purchases.
Hernandez made this accusation after investigators determined missing Visa gift cards meant for cancer patients had been used at Walmart, gas stations, fast food venues and to make payments into the PayPal account of a “Ray Springer,” the state audit said.
“According to staff we spoke with, Mr. Springer is a friend of Ms. Hernandez,” the audit reported, which said evidence makes it “apparent” the missing gift cards “were used for personal purposes.” That evidence includes an 8:50 p.m. March 16, 2020, email to Hernandez from a man she told investigators was her ex-boyfriend. The email includes a slew of typos:
“I have no phone and no one to turn to. They are closing all ythe casinos to night. Can you please Send 100$ to rays paypal. Th at way I can do the casino one tim. Please love you. Sorry ibsuck. Internet is spotty.”
Hernandez said she didn’t know Springer, that her ex “regularly made requests like the one included in the email” and that she turned him down. When confronted with the PayPal charges, Hernandez said she often worked from home on an unsecured personal laptop. But the audit said that since information about the cards including the account numbers and verification codes were needed for transactions, “accessing information on Ms. Hernandez’s computer would not be sufficient to make a payment with the gift cards.”
Other potential abuses
Hernandez, in an interview with investigators, “was unable to provide an explanation for the variance” in gift card records. She failed to explain 126 missing gift cards valued at $9,725, which her division bought with donations from the Aiming for a Cure Fund, an Iowa City-based organization committed “to help children and their families that suffer from various forms of cancer.”
The audit found nearly two dozen unaccounted for gas cards donated by The Cancer Consortium Fund, founded in May 2020 to help cancer patients being treated at UIHC. Hernandez couldn’t provide an explanation.
Hernandez also had university credit cards meant for buying patient gift cards, books, supplies and staff recognition items. Investigators said they found several “improper or unsupported” purchases including an English translation of the Quran shipped to Hernandez’s home, a gas purchase in Lamoni and payments to Backpocket Brewery and a yoga studio, according to the audit.
One month after Hernandez resigned her position at UIHC, she was arrested on suspicion of misappropriating nearly $75,000 from the Fox Hallow Condominium Owner’s Association, for which she was the lone board member. According to a police report, she withdrew cash, wrote checks to herself, made wire transfers and linked her Venmo, CashApp, and PayPal accounts to the association’s bank account.
She pleaded guilty to first-degree theft on Aug. 5, 2021, and received a three-year deferred judgment involving self-supervised probation. She also had to pay a civil penalty and damages.
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