Lawmakers question state officials over virus contract flop

Friday, December 18, 2020, Vol. 44, No. 51

NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee officials have drawn questions from Republican and Democratic lawmakers for entering into a $26.5 million state contract for faulty coronavirus testing and other services before nixing the deal, still having spent $5.9 million on the services provided.

According to The Tennessean, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey and other officials appeared Thursday in front of the Legislature's Fiscal Review Committee to answer questions about the no-bid contract with Nomi Health.

The contract, which state officials signed signed May 1, was first revealed by WTVF-TV. Email records in the news station's investigation showed some lab experts with the state Department of Health had raised objections. They also show a Republican consultant pitched the company to GOP Gov. Bill Lee's chief of staff.

Tennessee officials determined the COVID-19 tests' ability to pick up on positive samples was not up to the state's standards and got out of the contract with the Utah company on June 12.

The company refused to refund $5.9 million of items, including personal protective equipment, technology and hardware setup and a management fee.

Piercey told lawmakers Thursday that the state had been flooded with proposals in the spring for COVID-19 supplies that governments were scrambling to find amid shortages. Piercey said Nomi was the only vendor who included personal protective equipment with the package.

Lawmakers discussed how the equipment ended up including veterinary wipes and arm-length gloves for the birth of livestock.

Republican Rep. Michael Curcio of Dickson, among others, raised concerns about state processes to prevent wasted taxpayer money.

"It surprises me you didn't ask the people who are actually responsible for overseeing the tests about this particular vendor," Curcio told Piercey.

Piercey said she had sought additional input outside of the publicized back-and-forth via emails.

Mike Perry, Tennessee's chief procurement officer, said a bidding process is in place for 85 to 90% of what's being purchased now amid the pandemic.