Government Nurses Joining Quarter-Million-Dollar Club

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State reluctant to detail how nine employees of taxpayer-funded Eleanor Slater Hospital pull in over $100,000 each in extra pay

 

Stella Adeniyi has worked for the State of Rhode Island as a registered nurse at Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston since 1990. In 2011, on top of her regular pay of $97,460, Adeniyi took home $172,398 for working overtime, putting her gross pay at $269,858.

The standard workweek for registered nurses in the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) is 40 hours. If Adeniyi were to make 1.5 times her normal hourly salary for overtime, she would have had to work 87 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, in order to earn her total pay.

According to data collected by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, Adeniyi topped the list of overtime payments to the 17,206 employees on the state payroll that year.

She is one of nine staff members — six nurses and three psychiatrists — currently at Eleanor Slater who took home more than $100,000 in overtime pay in fiscal year 2011. Another three nurses on the 2011 payroll list for BHDDH, all hired in the 1980s, are no longer among the department’s personnel. The total cost of paying just overtime to those twelve employees was $1,485,346. The year before, the same dozen employees took home $1,379,769 in overtime.

Nurse supervisor Sylvia Macagba was second to Adeniyi in her overtime earnings for 2011. She was paid $158,462 on top of her regular salary of $104,590, to give her total pay of $263,052.

Employees at the hospital did not return calls for comment. Instead, a spokeswoman for BHDDH, Deb Varga, asked that all requests for information go through her.

But after three days, Varga said she was unable to provide specific information on why the state employees were able to more than double their salaries through overtime payments.

“You should know that the numbers include a number of additions including overtime, shift differential, longevity, on-call, special care agreements, etc.,” she said in an email.

Getting access to the payroll data that revealed the employees’ overtime pay was also difficult. After nearly a year of back-and-forth communications and meetings, the Department of Administration denied the Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s request. The Center’s transparency partner, Visible Government Online, ultimately acquired the information from a watchdog group at Northeastern University.

Michael Walker, a founding partner of Visible Government, said that Rhode Island proved to be the most difficult of the 25 states from which he’s requested this data — “by a considerable margin.”

Eleanor Slater plays a unique role among hospitals in Rhode Island because so many of its beds are devoted to psychiatric care and complex medical cases. Most of its patients are eligible for Medicaid, according to David Burnett, chief of government and public affairs for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS). That means the state and federal governments end up paying for most of the care the patients at the hospital receive.

According to a recently released Rhode Island Waste and Fraud Report, it is more expensive to treat patients at Eleanor Slater than at other long-term healthcare facilities.

The report says that Eleanor Slater had an “average cost of $957 per day per patient, compared with an average nursing home cost of $155 per day per patient.” It goes on to describe the hospital as operating “far below maximum patient capacity.”

Burnett said Eleanor Slater’s unique mission makes it difficult to compare to other facilities. He also explained that the Medicaid reimbursements are not based on fixed rates for service, but rather are based on the costs at a particular facility, so if it costs more to run a hospital, it can charge Medicaid higher rates.

In the case of Eleanor Slater, EOHHS pays each claim in full and periodically applies to the federal government for the matching payments.

The state’s behavioral healthcare department overspent its budget in at least the past two years, in part because of overtime payments, according to state financial reports. The reports blame staff vacancies for the need to spend extra state money on overtime. Linda McDonald, president of United Nurses and Allied Professionals, a labor union representing nurses at Eleanor Slater Hospital, also cited the number of nurses on staff to explain the high overtime payments.

The current list of job openings in the state includes five psychiatric institution attendant listings at Eleanor Slater. Those positions require an eighth grade education, some work experience, and state certification as a nursing assistant.

The twelve nurses and doctors with BHDDH who received over $100,000 in overtime were among 33 state employees who pulled in six figures in overtime last year. Most of those same employees were near the top of the list for overtime the year before.

The other individuals who were paid over $100,000 in overtime in BHDDH in fiscal year 2011 include:

  • Abella Corpus, Nurse Supervisor, salary: $104,878, overtime: $142,060, total: $246,938
  • Pedro Tactacan, Assistant Chief of Psychiatric Services, salary: $135,960, overtime: $109,700, total: $245,660
  • Sung Lee, Registered Nurse, salary: $92,443, overtime: $140,507, total: $232,950
  • Angela Lacombe, Psychiatrist, salary: $111,895, overtime: $105,121, total: $217,016
  • June Nwanna, Registered Nurse, salary: $84,153, overtime: $130,420, total: $214,573
  • Carl Langley, Nurse Supervisor, salary: $100,996, overtime: $100,080, total: $201,076
  • Cecilia Falguera, Registered Nurse, salary: $92,337, overtime: $106,355, total: $198,692
  • Josephine St. John, Registered Nurse, salary: $84,259, overtime: $109,946, total: $194,205
  • Thelma McGuirl, Registered Nurse, salary: $90,943, overtime: $102,017, total: $192,960
  • Kerstin Uy, Psychiatrist, salary: $63,275, overtime: $108,280, total: $171,555

Suzanne Bates is a freelance writer and a research fellow at the Yankee Institute for Public Policy in Connecticut.