Millions spent on state office renovations

Ohio Department of Medicaid is spending millions to replace cubicles and create a collaborative environment. (WSYX/WTTE)

The Ohio Department of Medicaid is spending millions of dollars to renovate and redesign its administrative offices at the Lazarus building in downtown Columbus.

Some state employees tell ABC 6 On Your Side Investigators they believe it’s government waste and does not translate into helping those in need.

“There is absolutely no legitimate reason to be spending that money,” a whistle-blower said. “It’s redecorating, totally redecorating.”

ABC 6 On Your Side Investigators reviewed expenses finding nearly $2 million spent on modular office furniture. Internal documents suggest the changes are to create a collaborative environment to allow for easier communication and foster creativity. However, pictures show very little difference between the old cubicles and the new ones.

Public policy think tank, the Buckeye Institute weighed in on what 6 On Your Side uncovered.

“It certainly looks like it’s functional,” senior policy analyst Greg Lawson said. “I think most people would take a look at that and they would scratch their head. I’m scratching my head.”

Additionally, more records show the Department of Medicaid spent millions on the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to buy the cubicles and have them installed by inmates.

The Ohio Department of Medicaid would not go on camera. Instead a spokesperson released the following statement:

“Ohio has worked to become a leader in driving innovation in its Medicaid programs and improved health outcomes. By thinking outside the box on new ways to innovate and improve, Ohio has been able to control costs and underspend projections by $3 billion over the past two years. Driving innovation has meant that we needed to break down silos within the department and create a more open-work environment and it holds great promise for continued success.”

The spokesperson said the department has started several new policy and program investments.

“This is taxpayer money, it’s my money, it’s your money,” Lawson said. “The key question for me is – how is this helping the people Medicaid is meant to help?”

More emails show another roughly $225,000 set aside for a lobby redesign.

“I think it’s practically a sin that money is being spent on something as frivolous as this instead of really helping people who need it,” a whistle-blower said.

ABC 6 On Your Side also found a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology exposing open office plan layouts don’t work and that private offices have fewer distractions and more privacy.

Documents show construction at the Lazarus building is just wrapping up.

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