The New Jersey Department of Health has pulled $363,499 in grant funding from the controversial needle exchange operator the Well of Hope. The state, in a five-page letter to Jerome King, executive director for the nonprofit, cites 21 separate problems with the nonprofit.
Among the issues cited in the Nov. 30, 2017 letter were poor monitoring of syringe inventory, unauthorized purchase of equipment, missing invoices, inadequate tracking and documentation of expenses, mold infestation, building disrepair, and unsanitary kitchen.
The state’s report affirms criticism some community leaders have levied against King and his organization. Both the nonprofit and King have been described as “irresponsible” by local leaders.
King did not respond to a call for comment on Monday morning.
“I think the activists put a magnifying glass on the Well of Hope,” said Bilal Hakeem of the Elombe Brath Power Coalition. “It’s a victory for the people,” he said of the state’s decision to pull funding.
King may have to scale back the work of his controversial organization when the current grant of $363,499 expires on December 31st, 2017. “The New Jersey Department of Health will not be renewing that grant funding,” said Nicole Kirgan, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of health.
With more than half of his budget being funded by this grant, King may end up shuttering some of his operations. His organization had a $574,159 budget in Dec. 2015, according to the latest available federal tax return.
King collects a $90,000 salary, according to tax records.
Hakeem led multiple protests outside the nonprofit’s Broadway building calling for its closure. Some of the protesters cited the unsanitary conditions and the two failed health inspections, other pointed to the millions of needles the group unloaded onto city sidewalks and public parks.
King attempted to quell protests by issuing pronouncements. For example, he announced the needle program would close only to open it again. Then he announced the program would run as an one-to-one exchange, but a reporter observed one of his client’s leaving with a bundle of needles without having turned any in.
“It’s absolutely about time someone at least held him accountable,” said councilman Michael Jackson. “It’s shameful the program was not more responsible. We don’t need that type of program in Paterson.”
King’s program served mostly out-of-town drug addicts. His organization also served food to clients in the past year despite having received an unsatisfactory health inspection.
The Well of Hope received two unsatisfactory inspections from the Paterson Health Department. Health officer Paul Persaud declared the organization a “public health risk” in mid-September after an inspection uncovered a number of sanitation problems from mold to possible vermin problem at 207 Broadway.
King was issued 12 summonses. He appeared twice before a municipal court judge and sought additional time to address the issues. He is scheduled for a court appearance on Dec. 22, 2017.
Health officials in late November said the Well of Hope has not provided any documents that it has corrected the issues at the Broadway building.
King’s ally health and human services director Donne Nelson-Ivy unsuccessfully tried to shield him from inspectors in August. Nelson-Ivy has been described as “compromised” for her continued support for the troubled organization.
Jackson and Alex Mendez were the two council members to vote in favor of taking away funding from the Well of Hope. Both cited the repeated failed health inspections and King’s failure to take steps to address the problems. Unlike the council, the state had lower tolerance level for King’s failures to correct deficiencies.
The state’s letter says King’s responses to shortcomings uncovered by the state were “inadequate in addressing major concerns” about the organization.
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