The findings by the Washington state Auditor's Office are the latest in a series of reports that are critical of the way the 800-bed Western State Hospital psychiatric facility is being run.
A state fraud investigation released Thursday found that a physician at Western State Hospital was paid almost $72,000 for hours that he did not work and that the hospital has failed to adequately monitor its doctors’ attendance.
The findings by the Washington state Auditor’s Office are the latest in a series of reports that are critical of the way the 800-bed psychiatric hospital is being run. The facility is under threat of losing millions in Medicare and Medicaid funds after federal investigators found safety violations that placed patients at risk. It also is under a federal injunction for failing to provide timely competency services to mentally ill defendants.
The audit said the doctor, who was not named in the report, was overpaid between 2011 and 2015 because he didn’t work one of his scheduled days and failed to turn in leave slips for those hours. When he skipped his 12-hour shift on Sunday, he arraigned to have another doctor cover for him, but he never secured approval from his supervisor or reported his missed hours to accounting, the audit said.
The doctor’s actions were unconscionable, said Carla Reyes, assistant secretary for the Department of Social and Health Services, Behavioral Health Administration. “This placed both patients and staff at risk of harm because it left fewer staff members to provide treatment to patients,” Reyes said in a statement.
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The doctor told auditors that he didn’t know about a hospital policy that required him to submit shift-coverage arrangements in writing. He said he didn’t know of any physicians who follow that policy.
Auditors reviewed the department’s tally of the doctor’s overpaid hours, which came to $43,330, and found an additional $28,423 in overpaid time that the agency had missed, the report said.
They also interviewed the doctor’s supervisor, who acknowledged that he was responsible for monitoring the doctor’s attendance and had been aware of the overpayments since 2012. He said the doctor was a “precious asset” and despite his timekeeping deficiencies, he was providing valuable treatment for patients. He also said the hospital has struggled with recruiting medical staff.
The hospital was required by law to report any suspected losses of public funds to the Auditor’s Office, but it failed to do so, the report said.
In the future, auditors said the hospital should conduct monthly reviews of timesheets and create a form for doctors to use if they need someone to cover their shift.
The department responded by saying it “has taken significant steps to strengthen the monitoring of time and attendance for physicians to ensure public resources are safeguarded.” It plans to recover the overpaid funds and pay for the auditor’s investigative costs.