Hospital Holiday

Study Finds Poor Oversight of a Billion Health Care Dollars

An early analysis by advocates, however, found "serious flaws in reported data" by some hospitals, according to the report, which were reported to state officials. The findings forced the state to re-address its allocation formula for the project. The group may have been too effective, however. Shortly after the advocates successfully challenged the data's accuracy, the state stopped providing them with information.

In February 2002, Wessler submitted a Freedom of Information request to the state Department of Health seeking final reports submitted by the hospitals for the project's first cycle of funding, along with site visit reports by state inspectors. The group also requested proposals submitted for the project's second and third funding cycles. Health department officials initially provided only partial records, and then in July, they ceased cooperating altogether.

Wessler then contacted Ray Brescia, an attorney at the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit legal-advocacy group. Last December Brescia filed suit in New York Supreme Court. About three weeks later, the state finally began handing over the records.

Judy Wessler, director of the Commission on the Public's Health System
photo: Joshua Farley
Judy Wessler, director of the Commission on the Public's Health System

"Clearly, they weren't going to give [Wessler] the information she was seeking," said Brescia. "They didn't claim any privilege under the law not to release the information, they just didn't produce the reports."

A spokesman for Raske's hospital association said that all funds had been expended appropriately. As in its dealings with the advocates, the state health department didn't bother to respond to Voice requests for comment. But an agency spokeswoman suggested to The New York Sun's Julie Satow that the agency's laid-back approach was intentional. "The program was specifically created to provide hospitals with flexibility, and our oversight reflects this flexibility," said the spokeswoman.

So casual was the agency's monitoring, the commission's study found, that seven hospitals received grant monies for the project's second and third cycles of funding without even completing full applications to the agency or accounting for how they had spent the previous cycle.

In some cases, even the state's own inspectors couldn't figure out how the money was being spent. In a June 2001 field report on Staten Island University Hospital, a state monitor wrote: "There was an issue with the report that 90 percent of the funding had been expended by the hospital, while considerably less than 90 percent of the activity represented in the workplan had been accomplished." Without further explanation, the monitor added: "This has been straightened out."

Said Wessler: "We are supposed to have been provided with all the records, but we can't figure out what went on there."

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