Saturday, September 06, 2008

Health agency audit reveals many woes

AUSTIN — Texas health and human services agencies continued to pay 1,229 terminated employees a total of $738,192 over the past two years, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

The overpayments were among several deficiencies found in work force practices at the Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees four state agencies in a system that employs 50,000 workers with a payroll of $2.2 billion.

Auditors also complained of inadequately trained supervisors, lengthy paid emergency leaves for employees facing criminal charges and inconsistent efforts to verify workers' citizenship status.
"The Health and Human Services Commission should improve its compliance with laws, policies and procedures when carrying out human resources functions," the audit said.

The audit also said the agencies are in minimal compliance with procedures for maintaining employee records, because some confidential information such as medical documentation should have been maintained separately. However, the agencies are substantially following compensation and complaint resolution processes, the report said.

Sen. Jane Nelson, chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, said she is concerned about deficiencies in screening and training because many of the employees are caring for children, the elderly and disabled citizens.

"These results are unacceptable and require an immediate response," Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said in a news release Wednesday.

Drafting legislation"It is unimaginable that a terminated employee would continue to receive a paycheck or that someone could be placed on 'emergency' leave for a year while investigations of criminal background checks are taking place," she said.

Nelson said she will address deficiencies in legislation she is drafting to overhaul the screening process for direct care staff.

The employees who continued to get paychecks after they were no longer working for an agency represented 6 percent of the 20,348 employees who were terminated in a 20-month period beginning September 2006. The agency with the worst record was the Department of Family and Protective Services, which continued to pay more than 20 percent of employees who were terminated.

The other agencies overseen by the commission are the Department of Aging and Disability Services, Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and the Department of State Health Services.

Some functions outsourced

The audit attributed some of the problems to the commission's human resources contractor, Ohio-based Convergys. In 2004, the commission outsourced a portion of its human resources function, including payroll processing and administrative training, to Convergys and reduced its own HR staff.

Stephanie Goodman, a commission spokeswoman, said the automatic payroll system has made it difficult to stop salary checks for employees who suddenly leave their jobs. Recent changes have made it easier to manually override the system, she said.

More than half of the overpayments — which amount to about $600 per individual — have been recovered and the agencies are working to collect the rest, Goodman said.

The commission reported that 43 employees were placed on emergency leave because their annual criminal background checks contained information that needed additional investigation.
The length of the leave periods ranged from less than one day to 343 days, with an average of 70 days.

Most extensive emergency leaves have occurred when employees are charged with crimes, but have not yet been convicted, Goodman said. Policies regarding those situations are being reviewed, she added.

The audit found that 92 percent of agency supervisors hired from September 2006 through March 2008 had not completed one or more required training courses.
And only 43 percent of non-supervisory employees hired during that same period had completed required training.

"The lack of adequate training may expose the (health and human services) agencies to risks such as lack of employee productivity and litigation," the audit said.

The training deficiencies discussed in the audit involve civil rights and human resources training, Goodman said. But she stressed that workers are receiving the training they need.

Auditors also said the commission could not locate 52 of 150 employment verification forms selected for testing. Those forms are required by the federal government to document whether individuals are eligible to work in the United States.

"I think we have the policies in place but we need to do a better job of implementing those in every office," she said.

Some comments from the article:

Cousin_It wrote:
There's no end to government incompetence and waste, dysfunction and ineptness.
9/4/2008 7:50:12 AM
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NativeHoustonian1961 wrote:
Writing those checks was a huge mistake, but cashing them was a crime. Scary to think these people were working for our benefit as state employees at one time.
9/4/2008 1:47:17 AM
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steelman wrote:
well as long as they continue to hire workers based on everything but intelligence this will happen again and again and... well you get the idea
9/4/2008 8:45:34 AM
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Cousin_It wrote:
If a direct deposit is made into your account by mistake that doesn't make it your money because someone else screwed up. Those people knew they had no right to those funds and knew the right thing to do is to return it.
9/4/2008 7:53:10 AM
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SWTSUguy wrote:
NativeHoustonian:1. The state has a rule requiring that all payroll payments be made by direct deposit unless the employee cannot obtain a bank account or the employee is so new that they could not have been timely setup on direct deposit. So, my guess is the vast majority of these payments were made by direct deposit.2. Texas has well settled case law called the voluntary payment rule (which the state itself has used to keep millions of dollars in payments that were deemed to be unconstitutional). Unless the state endorsed any of these checks as payment in protest, which from the context of this article is doubtlful, former employees have every right to cash such checks without recourse.