Friday, 21 September 2012

Audit: State Mental Health Agency Overpaid Employees, Psychiatric Consultants

September 20, 2012|By DAVE ALTIMARI,, The Hartford Courant
The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has overpaid for psychiatric services, mismanaged payments to hundreds of employees and failed to account for some clients' money, a newly released audit charges.

"There are clearly some serious issues with fiscal controls,'' State Auditor Robert Ward said. The auditors reviewed financial records from the fiscal years ending June 30, 2009, and 2010. They made eight recommendation in their 23-page report.

Among the findings:
•The amount DMHAS was paying in consulting fees to psychiatrists went from just more than $600,000 in 2008 to $3.2 million to 2010. The department is violating the state's policy on consulting contracts by keeping the same consultants on for years at a time. The pay rate of $275 an hour is almost three times more than rates set by the Department of Administrative Services.

•More than 860 union employees may have gotten paid for days that they did not work because DMHAS did not properly monitor furlough days. The employees took more furlough days than were deducted from their pay, the audit concluded.

•The department did a poor job monitoring cellphone usage. It did not check to see if employees with state phones were properly submitting their phone bills for review as required by state law. At Connecticut Valley Hospital, there were 72 employees with state-issued cellphones. Eighteen did not return any bills and 28 others submitted their bills months too late. As a result, the state was unable to check if employees were charging the state for personal calls.

•The department was not following state procedures for capital projects. In one case it failed to get approval from the Department of Construction Services for a $25,156 project. In another case, it lacked documentation for a $22,000 change order and failied to obtain certificates of compliance for two projects costing $72,000 and $95,000.

•An audit of clients' funds at the Southwest Connecticut Mental Health Network in Bridgeport showed that one person was in charge of administering the money. Auditors said the accounting procedures were "sloppy" and that in many cases clients' accounts did not match their bank balances.
The agency released the following statement Thursday: "DMHAS takes the Auditor's report very seriously and is working to correct those issues that have been identified. Some items that were identified in the report have already been addressed. For example, any overpayment of furlough dollars has already been recovered. The corrective actions for other issues are currently underway."

The audit also details the case of Benjamin Quinones, a former Connecticut Valley Hospital police lieutenant who was arrested on first-degree larceny charges for allegedly falsifying overtime records. Quinones was paid about $32,000 for 528 overtime hours that he submitted but didn't work, authorities charge.

Quinones has pleaded not guilty. His case is pending in state Superior Court in Middletown.
Ward said one of the largest areas of concern was the department's contracting of psychiatric services. When they were unable to find qualified psychiatrists, DMHAS officials asked the state Department of Administrative Services if they could add consultants at $275 an hour, which is twice as much as the highest rate DAS allows.

The DAS contract called for the positions to be filled for no more than six months by temporary staff and that previously retired state employees may not work at the agency as consultants. The auditors found that DMHAS was employing seven psychiatrists as consultants, some who had been working for 20 months or more, which increased payments from $625,000 to more than $3.2 million.

The audit found that one unidentified psychiatrist retired from state service and was hired as a consultant, resulting in his being paid a consulting fee while collecting his state retirement benefits.
"The consulting fees increased almost five-fold because they were failing to hire new state employees and instead using the consultants as state employees over a long period of time,'' Ward said.

In its answers to the audit, agency officials noted that they are now requiring anyone with a cellphone to submit a monthly bill to the agency's chief financial officer. DMHAS is also conducting an internal audit of all client funds at the Southwest Connecticut Mental Health Network.

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