KSL Investigates: State COVID-19 contracts exceed $67 million

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SALT LAKE CITY — The “Healthy Together” app and TestUtah.com were developed for the state of Utah to help track the spread of COVID-19, as well as protect Utahns and businesses from the spread of the virus.

This week, more details about the contracts related to the development of these tools are drawing criticism from lawmakers.

'Healthy Together' app

“We have essentially a social media app developer, of Twenty [Labs] that has developed a health app,” said Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Midvale.

Stoddard had concerns about the contract process around tech company Twenty Labs, LLC., which developed the “Healthy Together” app. The New York-based business secured this contract to help contact tracing of COVID-19 in Utah.

The contract outlined a one-time payment from the state for $2.75 million for the app development, followed by $300,000 per month for up to one million users for “monthly maintenance and support.” After that, it will cost an extra $0.30 per user.

“So, over the life of the contract for a year, it’s going to be over $6 million,” said Stoddard. “I have the app. It seems like a great tool to have in the toolbox. I don’t think it’s worth $6 million.”

The contract has a term of five years. As far as Stoddard can tell, however, the state won’t own the app.

“I would have rather taken than that $6 million and just hired more in-person contact tracers,” he said. “Because that’s the way it’s been done. That’s how it’s been shown to be effective.”

The Utah “Healthy Together” app. (Photo: KSL TV)
The Utah “Healthy Together” app. (Photo: KSL TV)

Regardless of those concerns, state officials were moving forward with the app’s development.

During Wednesday’s COVID-19 press conference, Utah’s state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said, “We’re actually working with the app developer today to develop a public health portal where our case investigators will be able to see the [historical] location of positive individuals if they allow investigators to do so.”

The KSL Investigators reached out to the governor’s office for comment concerning this contract, and in a statement were told, “We believe the value of the app in augmenting our public health officials’ efforts will prove itself over time. Contextually, Twenty Labs invested about $20 million in developing the technology that is now the base of ‘Healthy Together.’”

(Photo: KSL TV)
(Photo: KSL TV)

Enough due diligence?

The Utah COVID-19 Task Force has received criticism the last couple of weeks for public-private partnerships, including questions about the $800,000 purchase of an anti-malaria drug from vendor Meds in Motion. That money was ultimately refunded to the state.

Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, said she was against the purchase of hydroxychloroquine from the beginning with concerns over transparency and lack of due diligence.

“I had concerns early on that many people were pushing hydroxychloroquine,” she said. “Is this a good use of taxpayer dollars? And is this the proper role of government?”

The Twenty Labs contract is one of five state contracts the KSL Investigators obtained through a state open records request, all focused on helping Utah track and navigate the spread of COVID-19.

Those five contracts were awarded to four companies, costing the state $67,265,300 over the next year.

“There’s no reason [the state] couldn’t have opened this up [for bids],” said Stoddard.

Because Utah is in a state of emergency with the pandemic, the State’s Division of Purchasing and General Services said on its website, “Through May 31, 2020, procurements for goods and services directly related to the State’s response to the coronavirus are excepted from competitive solicitation requirements. Agencies are encouraged to use as much competition as is practicable.”

How that $67 million is spent

Three vendors were involved in the other four contracts the KSL Investigators examined.

Orem-based Nomi Health was awarded $2 million to run the TestUtah.com website. This contract terminates May 20, unless the state chooses to renew.

Nomi Health was also operating five mobile COVID-19 test sites as part of the private-public partnership with Silicon Slopes. In this separate contract, the state awarded the company $3 million for the testing sites and an additional $600,000 per month, per site, to operate.

This contract also expires on May 20 but may be renewed by the state. The KSL Investigators took into consideration a full year of testing for this contract in our total calculations.

Qualtrics also has a partnership with Nomi Health and the state for data management and development of the TestUtah.com survey. The governor’s office told KSL that Qualtrics is an existing vendor and therefore was able to negotiate a discounted rate in light of the pandemic. Over the next year, the state will pay $1.8 million to the company, with an additional $550,000 available for employee resources as needed.

DOMO, a cloud company in American Fork, signed a $2 million deal at the end of March to create and run the state’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard. This stores data valuable to agencies like Utah Department of Health, COVID-19 Task Force, and the Division of Emergency Management. It tracks everything from COVID-19 hospitalizations to supply needs.

The University of Utah’s Davis Eccles School of Business received a contract focused on field testing random samples to better get an idea of which populations are affected by coronavirus and how they might best fight the disease based on these demographics.

The contract includes a two-phase plan. Phase one lasts one month and focuses on comprehensive testing in Salt Lake, Davis, Summit, and Utah counties to gather information like demographics, symptoms, access to health care and compliance with social distancing. This costs the state $2,778,500.

Phase two is a statewide mobile testing plan to incorporate what is learned in Phase one. This operates on a continual, rolling basis at a cost of $1,111,400 per month. The contract expires April 21, 2021, unless the state terminates it early or decides to extend it.

Still, lawmakers were concerned with the lack of transparency in these deals.

“What’s concerning to me is that these deals have happened behind closed doors and then we’re just funding the bill for them,” said Stoddard.

“I have questions about many of these contracts that have been handed out in a no-bid process during this crisis,” said Harrison.

The governor’s office said they intend to address the state contracts in a press conference on Thursday at 11:30 a.m.

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