Kim Harmon, a McMinn County native, became the inspector general for the State of Tennessee in January of 2018.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) is a law enforcement agency that investigates TennCare fraud and abuse by recipients or people taking wrongful advantage of TennCare benefits.
According to Harmon, the OIG works to preserve Medicaid benefits in Tennessee for those for whom they are intended.
“Typical cases include persons providing false income information, or they lie about their household composition (who is living in the home), or they lie about living in Tennessee by using their mother’s address but live in another state,” said Harmon. “These are considered eligibility cases. They lie in order to receive TennCare benefits.”
They also work to ensure that state-funded medicine reaches its rightful recipient.
“Another type of investigation is drug diversion. Recipients sell their prescriptions for which TennCare paid,” she explained. “TennCare is a great program and provides much needed medical care to approximately 1.4 million Tennesseans. Anytime you have a great program, you will have persons trying to take undue advantage of that program.”
Harmon has 29 years of experience working for the State of Tennessee.
She worked her first 10 years in the Tennessee Department of Revenue as a tax auditor.
“On a rare occasion, I would discover someone was cheating on their taxes and I wanted to know where the dirty money went,” Harmon stated. “Out of that interest, I was promoted to a special agent in the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s Special Investigations Unit and went to basic police school at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy (TLETA) in 1998 as a 32 year-old female. I was the second oldest and one of nine women in the class. There were many times during basic police that I heard my mother’s words saying I could do anything I wanted to do; those words got me through the most strenuous and difficult courses at TLETA.”
Her next career opportunity came in 2001 when she was hired by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to investigate TennCare provider fraud in their Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (now division).
“For 10 years, I investigated a wide variety of cases with TennCare nexus: rape, patient abuse, embezzlement, fraudulent billing and drug diversion. Every case was interesting to me because I wanted to find the truth and, if warranted, present those investigations to prosecutors, both federal and state,” Harmon said. “Larry Wallace was the director of TBI when I was hired. When he spoke to my TBI class of 18 special agents, I remember him sharing about the importance of working investigations for the victims. He specifically shared a story about working a crime against a non-verbal victim in Memphis. He stressed the importance of speaking on behalf of the victim and seeking justice.”
She shared a story about how the lessons she had learned from Wallace proved true when a male nurse was accused of improper activity with a female resident at a medical facility for developmentally and intellectually challenged adults.
“The prosecutor said moving forward was the right thing to do. After the male nurse took the stand in his trial and opened pandora’s box regarding his history, the jury found him guilty of lesser charges, which resulted in his being on the sex offender registry and losing his nursing license,” she said. “This particular case told me this was exactly why God had placed me in this job at this time. Prior to that, I never really had a calling to a vocation. I just knew I needed to work and these opportunities for work were in my path. Every case was interesting, whether working undercover as a patient in a pill mill, sorting through financial records or interviewing witnesses to gain their perspectives.”
In 2011 she accepted a promotion with the TBI and moved to the Nashville area where she primarily trained TBI special agents and other law enforcement officers.
After working with the TBI for 17 years she took an opportunity to become the new inspector general at the OIG.
“During the two and half years, we have met goals of placing half of the agents across the state where they have closer ties to their local law enforcement and prosecutors and, most importantly, the citizens in their respective regions. It is very common for agents to have roots in the community and have someone approach them at a ballgame or in the neighborhood to say someone is on TennCare but their lifestyle well exceeds expectations of TennCare income thresholds,” Harmon explained. “Another goal OIG recently met was hiring a forensic accountant last fall for the purpose of analyzing financial documents to best determine one’s true income.”
Respecting people is critical in life, regardless of your career, Harmon noted.
“I was a shy young lady from McMinn County that did well in school. After years of explaining to some taxpayers they owed money and why, I discovered ‘people are people are people,’” she said. “People work hard to run their businesses and to earn a living. Some probably were well aware they owed additional tax, but some were not. Regardless, treating everyone with respect and talking them through their tough time was rewarding. I found the same to be true in criminal investigations. Regardless of the evidence of intent, having to answer to their decisions was best approached with respect.
“Whether making an arrest or conducting a search warrant, everyone deserves respect. I have found it very rewarding to walk alongside the victims in investigations and/or their families,” she continued.
Harmon added that she enjoys being able to help people and the community in her current position.
“The victim I described earlier needed someone to be her advocate. If someone billed TennCare as if they were working 48-hour days, I found it rewarding to follow the trail of evidence through boxes and boxes of documents,” she said. “I have found finding the truth and doing the right thing to be very rewarding. So I hope professionally, my greatest accomplishment has been giving back to society, specifically Tennesseans, by finding the truth and seeing some resolution afterward. In OIG, we are working to preserve TennCare money for those truly deserving.”
Her immediate family consists of her husband, Randy, and their two daughters, Taylor and Bailey.
“Randy went to McMinn County High School and I went to McMinn Central. Randy and I often tease each other as to who got the better education,” she said.
Her hobbies consist of spending time with family and friends, watching birds with her husband on their back porch, playing the piano and watching TV.
“I have really appreciated my life and heritage from McMinn County where my parents raised me on a farm in the Claxton community, and where we raised our girls for 12 years of their lives,” Harmon said. “There is such a strong sense of trust and community. McMinn County is full of people doing the right things for the right reasons. If there is anything I have held onto from McMinn, it would be just that. There are givers and takers in this world. I hope to always be found to be one giving back and making people’s lives better.”