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August 9, 2016
UUP: Extravagant spending by Downstate consultant shows need for transparency
ALBANY - United University Professions President Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D., called for full transparency of SUNY and its institutions after a stinging state Comptroller’s audit uncovered tens of thousands of dollars in wasteful spending by a consultant contracted by SUNY Downstate Medical Center.
On Aug. 8, the state Comptroller’s Office released an audit of travel expenses claimed for reimbursement by Pitts Management Association, hired in 2012 to provide “organizational restructuring and consulting services” at Downstate, one of three state hospitals run by SUNY.
“These corrupt activities involving Pitts occurred at a time when highly trained, highly effective professional staff, doctors, researchers, and faculty at Downstate were forced to take on increased workloads as Pitts made wholesale staff cuts,” said Kowal. “Certainly, much more oversight and transparency is necessary at SUNY and its institutions to ensure that state funds directed to Downstate are used to provide vital health care services and teach future medical professionals, not for expensive hotel rooms and alcohol-fueled team dinners.”
Kowal urged SUNY to immediately implement the Comptroller’s recommendations, a series of checks and balances that would prevent Pitts from vouchering further questionable expenses. UUP has long advocated for transparency at SUNY and its research foundations.
“Our stand on this issue is in line with criticism by the Cuomo administration about top-level waste within SUNY,” Kowal continued. “This audit points to a continuing pattern of misuse of resources, a pattern that endangers the very mission of SUNY."
“Only full transparency of the SUNY institutions will bring this under control.”
UUP represents approximately 2,500 employees at Downstate. More than 1,000 jobs have been lost since Pitts began its work at the Central Brooklyn hospital.
Kowal applauded State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli for undertaking the audit, which uncovered more than $83,000 in questionable or unreasonable spending by Pitts.
Some of the more outlandish expenditures included allowing Pitts’ executives to stay at the toney Carlyle Hotel—at rates as high as $1,419 per night—and $14,193 for an executive-level consultant who rented a hotel room monthly but went home on the weekends.
The audit also detailed “excessive” meal expenses of nearly $14,000, including $2,000 spent at a “team dinner” at Manhattan’s Docks Oyster Bar and Seafood Grill; 19 percent of the bill was for alcohol. It questioned Pitts’ bills for limousine and car service totaling nearly $16,000—expenses Pitts categorized as “normal and customary.”
The audit’s findings didn’t come as a surprise to Rowena Blackman-Stroud, UUP’s Downstate Chapter president. Blackman-Stroud said she’s been questioning Pitts’ expenses, its ever-expanding staff, and the consultant’s role at the hospital shortly after the consultant began at Downstate.
“There is a clear, desperate need for transparency and financial controls in SUNY and in its institutions in the way public funds are used—especially when it comes to the hiring of consultants,” she said.
Kowal said that he is optimistic that Downstate has “turned a page” by appointing an interim leadership team led by Dr. Michael Lucchesi.
“The appointment of Dr. Lucchesi as officer-in-charge at Downstate was the right thing to do,” Kowal said. “We are hopeful that the search for a new Downstate president will provide the hospital with strong, necessary leadership.”
UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 42,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees. UUP members work at 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Long Island and Syracuse. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.
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