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ASH employee cheated the state out of $7,500 in overtime. He’s still on the job

Atascadero State Hospital is featured prominently in a 33-page report that says an employee improperly claimed $7,540 in overtime benefits.
Atascadero State Hospital is featured prominently in a 33-page report that says an employee improperly claimed $7,540 in overtime benefits. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A psychiatric technician at Atascadero State Hospital arrived late, took long lunches, and left early on more than half his shifts over the course of a year.

By not reporting the absences, he collected more than $7,500 in overtime pay, according to a report released this month by the California State Auditor’s office.

A California Department of State Hospitals spokesman said Thursday that the employee — who the agency will not identify — remains on the job.

Atascadero State Hospital is featured prominently in the 33-page report that summarizes investigations conducted by the auditor’s office between January and June 2017 based on whistleblower complaints of attendance abuse and other improper activities by state agencies and their employees.

The report, which also found the employee’s supervisors were lax in their review of his time sheets, suggested the hospital discipline the employee, try to to recoup the money and “address the failures of the shift lead and the supervisor” in “recognizing and addressing attendance abuse.”

Department of State Hospitals spokesman Ken August said the agency agrees with the findings of the report, but is prohibited from discussing the employee due to personnel confidentiality laws.

The agency requires clinical staff, such as nurses and psychiatric technicians, to record their arrival and departure times on sign-in sheets. When unit supervisors approve time sheets, they must verify that employees’ hours match those on the sign-in sheets and rely on shift leads to ensure their accuracy.

From July 2015 through June 2016, auditors found the psychiatric technician’s late arrivals and early departures ranged from 10 minutes to more than an hour, and that he frequently took lunches that exceeded his allotted lunch break by 10 to 40 minutes.

The employee also signed up for voluntary overtime, often working five to six extra shifts per week. The abuse reportedly occurred during both his regular and overtime shifts.

In total, auditors found unrecorded absences on 58 percent of the employee’s workdays during the one-year period. On those 195 days, his absences totaled 159 hours, or an average of 49 minutes per day, the report states.

When interviewed, the employee acknowledged he had unaccounted absences, the report says. The shift lead initially called the psychiatric technician an “exemplary employee,” and took responsibility for not monitoring the employee’s attendance.

In response to the report, the Department of State Hospitals Hospitals said its executive team will consult with its legal, labor relations and human resources departments about whether to take action against the psychiatric technician, shift lead and supervisor.

The Auditors Office says it received roughly 660 whistleblower reports between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2017 of “improper governmental activity,” defined as any action by a state agency or employee during the performance of duties that violates a law; is economically wasteful; or involves gross misconduct, incompetence, or inefficiency.

Since the State Auditor activated the whistleblower hotline in 1993, the agency has identified activities that have cost the state approximately $576.6 million.

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