The California Department of Corrections allowed a prison psychiatrist to continue to treat patients for four months after allegations of incompetence surfaced and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary during its three-year misconduct probe, according to the state auditor.
The case was among several outlined yesterday in a new report by State Auditor Elaine Howle into allegations of employee misconduct.
The report found that when California prison officials determined the psychiatrist had negligently prescribed medications to patients, he was transferred to administrative duties instead of being fired.
The 35-month investigation into his alleged misconduct wasted at least $366,656 in state funds by continuing to pay the psychiatrist more than $600,000 in salary, according to the auditor's report. This included two merit-based salary increases.
According to the state auditor's office, the prison internal affairs department had assigned a higher priority to other cases. But prison officials disagreed with some of the findings in the report and said they followed the law.
“We never assign anything a low priority,” said Terry Thornton, a prison spokeswoman.
One prison expert said the auditor's report doesn't capture other costs raised by the case. Ernest Galvan, a partner at the law firm Rosen, Bien & Galvan, which recently briefed a mental health case before the U.S. Supreme Court, said prisoners who receive substandard mental health care often become repeat offenders – costing the system even more.
“What would distress me about keeping the same incompetent psychiatrist is that they don't have that many psychiatrists anyway," Galvan said. "They need them all functioning.”
The state auditor also detailed other cases of alleged waste and abuse by state employees, including a worker at the Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board who had reportedly removed hundreds of confidential documents from her workplace.
According to the audit report, the documents included the names of 348 victims and the Social Security numbers of 160 others. The employee’s supervisor told the auditor's office that he believed the employee removed the documents to avoid doing the work associated with them.
As a result, the claims board estimates it failed to process 23 applications for compensation. They have now all been resolved, according to Jon Myers, a spokesman for the board. Additionally, since 2008 the board has scanned all documents before they are assigned to individual staff in order to avoid a similar situation.
The state auditor reported that no disciplinary action was taken against the supervisor of the worker accused of taking the documents.
“Unfortunately, because it's still a personnel issue I'm not at liberty to speak about it," Myers said. "The audit doesn't reflect everything that's been ongoing. The supervisor is still here, and it's something we are monitoring."
In another case detailed in the report, a supervisor at Kern Valley State Prison allowed an employee to take two-hour breaks at the end of his shift nearly every day for more than three years. The state paid the employee an estimated $23,937 for 1,160 hours during which he was not performing his job duties, officials said.
Thorton, the prison spokeswoman, said no one was disciplined, "because we did not find any evidence of misconduct."
"It was a training issue and we've provided the training," she said.
Some progress has been made in other cases previously reported by the auditor's office.
In 2005, the auditor reported that the California Department of Corrections had allowed employees to work on union-related activities without confirming that there was an adequate balance in the “time bank," composed of leave hours donated by members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association so that union representatives can cover union business. The department has not collected the $1,512,600 it claims to be owed but has initiated litigation against the union.
And in December 2009, the auditor reported that the Office of the Chancellor for the California State University system had improperly reimbursed a former official $152,441 from July 2005 through July 2008. (For details on reimbursement issues at California State University see this previous post).
No further action has been taken to follow the auditor's recommendations, which include establishing maximum limits for business expenses. The university stated that establishing defined limits for reimbursing the costs of lodging would be “impractical.”