Documents: Fired DSS director’s ‘grossly inefficient job performance’ cost Forsyth County hundreds of thousands of dollars

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The letter sent to former Forsyth County Department of Social Services Director Debra Donahue, which details the board of social services’ reasoning for firing her, shows they determined Donahue mismanaged funds, caused people to lose their jobs and cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The board unanimously voted to dismiss Donahue from employment Thursday afternoon, two days after they met with her in a closed session special meeting. When Donahue left Tuesday’s meeting, she declined to comment on FOX8’s inquiries as to why she had been absent from her job for several weeks.

The board says their investigation led to the discovery that, on June 29, 2017, Salvation Army staff asked Donahue to help them understand the contracting process, after they discovered their contract with FCDSS was not being renewed after 10 years of service. In fact, the Salvation Army detailed that they were informed that their contract was not being renewed by clients who received a flyer from FCDSS staff.

Documents show the board was provided a copy of an audio recording of a meeting with Donahue and the Salvation Army. The audio evidence “clearly shows that Salvation Army representatives were professional the entire time.”

The board found that Donahue stood up during the meeting, raised her voice, stated that she would not be disrespected, walked out of the meeting and left her staff at the meeting after the Salvation Army’s reasonable questions. They add that Donahue never returned to the meeting, never apologized, nor did she provide her staff with any guidance.

Because of what the board refers to as Donahue’s “egregious actions,” the Salvation Army was forced to terminate four employees and a fifth was converted from full-time to part-time with no benefits. Of the four employees terminated, one had worked for the Salvation Army for 17 years, one for 12 years and one for seven years. The Salvation Army was not able to provide ample notice to those individuals due to Donahue’s “lack of proper notice.”

In addition, the board found that Donahue failed to properly manage “energy funds in order to maximize the benefit to the county.” Donahue’s actions caused the department to exhaust its Crisis Intervention Program funds. North Carolina Health and Human Services staff were concerned that FCDSS had exhausted its funds in less than six months, as per Donahue’s direction, the letter states. Forsyth County received $1,364,700 for fiscal year 2018, which NCDHHS expected to last the entire fiscal year to assist Forsyth County citizens in need of services.

It was determined that Donahue failed to ensure that clients met the eligibility criteria for a crisis as defined by the state, the board says.

The program had previously been managed by the Salvation Army. The board says when Donahue decided to bring the program “in house,” she failed “to ensure that agency staff was adequately prepared to administer the program.”

The board adds that they discovered Donahue removed the $300 cap for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Assistance Program, resulting in fewer clients receiving critically needed funds.

It was also discovered that during a meeting on Nov. 20, 2017, Donahue informed Cardinal Innovations that FCDSS had no intentions of billing Medicaid for services, saying that FCDSS “needed to get back to basics,” and adding that any revenue generated by the clinical unit would result in the county reducing the FCDSS budget by the same amount, so there would be no financial benefit.

The Social Services Board says this “inappropriate action” cost the county $200,000 or more.

Donahue then sent a letter to Cardinal Innovations, dated Dec. 7, 2017, which stated that FCDSS was voluntarily terminating its contract with Cardinal.

The board says Donahue’s “continued failure to properly manage programs is detrimental to the citizens of Forsyth County who rely on those benefits.” They say the county is subjected to a financial detriment due to FCDSS Medicaid errors, adding that such errors either negatively impacts serviced provided to citizens, or could result in overpayments for ineligible individuals.

On Dec. 18, 2017, the Social Services Board issued Donahue a performance evaluation. During the meeting, they say, her behavior and tone were unprofessional, disrespectful, accusatory and “quite disturbing.” They say Donahue did not accept constructive feedback and responsibility for her actions. In addition, they allege that Donahue made derogatory comments about County Manager Dudley Watts, who was not present and did not have any involvement in the board’s assessment of her performance.

Donahue’s behavior validated serious concerns previously raised by staff and community members, the board says.

The letter also provides clarity to the reasoning behind Donahue’s absence from work. It says that Donahue had scheduled leave from work beginning on Dec. 21, 2017, up through and including Dec. 29, 2017. However, after Donahue received the board’s assessment of her performance, and its corrective action plan, Donahue abruptly changed her leave plans. Donahue stated that she was “unable” to report to work on Dec. 19 and 20, 2017, because she was distraught.

During Tuesday’s closed session, which is referred to as a pre-disciplinary conference in the letter, Donahue “offered no explanation for her failure to accept a board evaluation before leaving the premises.”

The board stated that Donahue was fired due to her “unacceptable personal conduct and grossly inefficient job performance.”

A statement from Fleming El-Amin, Board of Social Services Chair, reads:

"The Forsyth County Social Services Board dismissed Debra R. Donahue from employment as Director of the agency effective today, February 8, 2018. This was not a decision that was taken lightly but was done in the best interests of Forsyth County citizens. The Board has confidence that the agency will continue to serve the community effectively and we wish Ms. Donahue the best in her future endeavors."

Donahue was hired on Nov. 17, 2014. FCDSS employs more than 500 people and has a budget of more than $53 million. Donahue’s ending salary was $121,555 per year.

FOX8 attempted to contact Donahue for comment several times on Thursday but did not receive a response.​