Hear­ings now on UConn health cen­ter

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - Opinion -

So many scan­dals and in­jus­tices come and go that it could be easy to lose track and just move on to the next out­rage. But when a state-run in­sti­tu­tion is called out on de­lib­er­ate mis­con­duct — pay­ing a dead pro­fes­sor for six months among the find­ings — full at­ten­tion must be paid.

The Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut Health Cen­ter, a medical and den­tal school, re­search cen­ter and hospi­tal com­plex in Farm­ing­ton that treats up­ward of 1 mil­lion pa­tients a year, re­ceived bad grades in a state au­di­tor’s re­port dated May 23.

The au­di­tors found in a re­view of fis­cal years up to 2016 that UConn Health had “de­fi­cien­cies in in­ter­nal con­trols; ap­par­ent non-com­pli­ance with le­gal pro­vi­sions; and need for im­prove­ment in man­age­ment prac­tices and pro­ce­dures.”

Aside from con­tin­u­ing to pay a pro­fes­sor af­ter he died, the cen­ter flouted state pol­icy by re­hir­ing re­tired state em­ploy­ees and lost track of 746 pieces of equip­ment worth more than $5,000 each. That alone amounts to $3.7 mil­lion. There’s more in the 43-page au­di­tor’s re­port, for ex­am­ple, salaries in­creased for em­ploy­ees who ap­proved a con­sult­ing con­tract for a com­pany that en­gaged the CEO.

When the re­port was re­leased, state House and Se­nate lead­ers were quick to rail against gov­ern­ment waste. Some can­di­dates for gov­er­nor vied over who was first to call for for­ma­tion of an Inspector Gen­eral’s of­fice.

That was two weeks ago. Since then — not much. State ap­pro­pri­a­tions to the health cen­ter have steadily risen, the re­port shows. In­clud­ing em­ploy­ees’ fringe ben­e­fits, con­tri­bu­tions went from $266.1 mil­lion in 2013 to $289.3 mil­lion in 2016. Granted, most of the hospi­tal’s in­come is from pa­tient care, but when a cash­strapped state hands over that much money more ac­count­abil­ity is in or­der.

By state statute, a hear­ing must be held within 180 days of the Leg­is­la­ture re­ceiv­ing a re­port. State Sen. Michael McLach­lan, the Se­nate co-chair­man of the GAE com­mit­tee with his House coun­ter­part, re­quested a hear­ing on sev­eral agen­cies in a June 8 let­ter to Demo­cratic com­mit­tee lead­ers.

Hear­ings should be con­ducted with ur­gency by the ap­pro­pri­ate leg­isla­tive com­mit­tees this sum­mer, well be­fore the dead­line, which would be Nov. 20.

Also, the UConn Health Cen­ter’s Board of Trus­tees must ques­tion CEO An­drew Ag­wunobi about the lax man­age­ment con­trols and what is be­ing done to cor­rect them.

In a response to a let­ter by state Repub­li­can Leader Len Fasano about “a pat­tern of fail­ures,” Ag­wunobi wrote that the salary de­posited in a pro­fes­sor’s bank ac­count for months af­ter his death has been re­paid and the depart­ment head re­moved from her man­age­ment po­si­tion; UConn Health takes the au­di­tors’ find­ings “very se­ri­ously,” he said.

The lat­est find­ings fol­low a state au­di­tor’s re­port last year that un­cov­ered in­ad­e­quate medical treat­ment of 25 pris­on­ers, and the death of eight, and led the state Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions to can­cel its con­tract with UConn Health.

Assurances are not enough. Leg­is­la­tors need to call UConn Health Cen­ter man­age­ment to a pub­lic hear­ing im­me­di­ately — be­fore the next scan­dal di­verts at­ten­tion.

Aside from con­tin­u­ing to pay a pro­fes­sor af­ter he died, the cen­ter flouted state pol­icy by re­hir­ing re­tired state em­ploy­ees,and lost track of 746 pieces of equip­ment worth more than $5,000 each.

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