News 6 report prompts Florida lawmaker to call for investigation into state’s contact tracing program

Woman says she was paid but never given any contact tracing assignments

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – A News 6 report prompts a state lawmaker to call for an investigation into the state’s contact tracing program.

The State of Florida is spending millions of dollars for contact tracing, and now a lawmaker wants answers about how that money is being used.

Central Florida State Representative Rene Plasencia already had concerns about the state's contact tracing program, and after hearing about Adrienne Barker he has even more concerns.

“I just thought it was a little concerning that we weren’t doing more contact tracing,” Plasencia told News 6.

Barker said when she heard the state was looking for contact tracers, she completed the online course and the background check.

“Its the one way that I thought I could really do something to make a difference,” Barker said.

She signed an agreement with Favorite Healthcare Staffing which outlined she would be paid $23 an hour working for the Department of Health in Seminole County and a hotel would be provided, according to the agreement.

Barker says she was told to check in to the Homewood Suites by Hilton in Lake Mary.

We asked if she did any contact tracing.

“Zero, nothing,” Barker said.

She stayed 15 days at the Lake Mary Hotel, according to Barker.

She said she was moved to the Holiday Inn Express in Melbourne to work with the Department of Health in Brevard County.

Eight more days and she said she got the same answer from her recruiter.

“She didn’t know what was going on, but there was no work,” Barker said.

No work?

In early July, Florida was averaging more than 9,000 new coronavirus infections per day, according to state records.

Barker said that even though she was given no assignments, she was getting paid.

She received $842 for July 4 through July 10 and another $842 for July 11 through 17, according to pay stubs Barker shared with News 6.

“To be in a hotel getting paid without working goes against every single thing. It goes against the grain of who I am,” Barker said.

Let’s talk about the cost of those hotel rooms.

While the company may have gotten a discount, according to Hilton's website to book a room today for 15 days will cost you $2,123.86

Another eight days at the Holiday Inn Express in Melbourne is $1,099.75.

If you factor in her pay, Favorite Healthcare Staffing may have paid nearly $5,000 for Barker to do nothing.

“Favorite Healthcare Staffing is paying me to work, but they must be billing me out at a profit margin to someone else,” Barker said.

That someone else is Florida taxpayers.

This online state database shows Florida is paying Favorite Healthcare Staffing more than $23 million dollars for COVID-19 healthcare staffing.

That staffing includes contact tracers, according to an email from the Alberto Moscoso with the Florida Department of Health.

The Department of Health's office in Brevard County sent News 6 a statement.

They have 49 contract employees, all of whom were provided by favorite healthcare.

“We are waiting for confirmation of background results or completion of the required training course for a small handful,” Anita Stremmel wrote.

Tallahassee cosigned that statement.

"That is, generally speaking, why someone may be receiving payment but has yet to be assigned," Moscoso wrote.

It still begs the question, why would you start paying someone before they’re cleared to work?

"There is complete lack of oversight and a complete lack of accountability," Barker said.

Favorite Healthcare Staffing is based in Kansas.

News 6 sent numerous emails and made several phone calls over the past week, but we got no response.

Plasencia is asking the Florida House of Representatives Healthcare Appropriations staff to investigate.

“As a function of the legislature, one of the things that we have the oversight is to a certain extent audit some of our programs that go through state agencies,” Plasencia said.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.