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Vax Card Fraud, Lost Equipment and Other Bad Behavior Revealed at City’s Public Hospitals

Closed investigation files reveal various misconduct at the Health and Hospitals Corporation, including a head surgeon who made staff plan his wedding and an ex-CEO who bent rules to secure his next job.

December 27, 2022 Reuven Blau, The City
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Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY

The city’s public hospital system has a lingering case of lying, cheating and stealing.

A Freedom of Information Law request by THE CITY about Department of Investigation probes revealed various levels of misconduct and inappropriate behavior.

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Investigators focused on the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) found: several staffers who used fake vaccine cards; a top surgeon who had subordinates write his thank you notes after his wedding; missing equipment and drugs; and a former CEO who used his position to rewrite rules to land his next job, according to a review of the disciplinary documents.

The Department of Investigation (DOI) examinations mostly cover the last three years, a period when the city’s 11 acute care hospitals were inundated with COVID patients.

Some of the dozens of misconduct cases — which were mostly set off by complaints — predate the pandemic because they took years to investigate, 60 pages of DOI records show.

The bogus vaccine cards were submitted to hospital supervisors shortly after former Mayor Bill de Blasio mandated in September 2021 that all public health care workers get inoculated.

More than 95% of NYC Health and Hospitals workers complied, de Blasio touted the following month. But some of those were fakes — with one staffer stealing an unknown amount of blank cards from a nursing home on the Lower East Side, the records show.

A clerical associate was captured on surveillance footage removing the cards from a workstation in the COVID vaccine center at the NYC H+H Gouverneur nursing home, according to the DOI’s Dec. 9, 2021, summary of a probe into the theft.

The clerical worker told investigators she had permission from her boss, but her immediate supervisor said that wasn’t the case, investigators wrote. She was fired on Nov. 11, 2021, for failing to comply with the city’s vaccine mandate.

She was not alone.

A Bellevue Hospital chaplain-in-training also submitted a fake vaccine card supposedly issued at Bay Eden Senior Center in The Bronx, the DOI concluded.

Investigators discovered the name of the center “was spelled differently on the two lines where the location was listed,” according to their closing memo. They also found that the vaccine batch numbers showed the dose expired before it was ostensibly given to Morgan.

The senior center also had no record of her and neither did the state’s immunization information system or the city’s immunization registry, the DOI memo said.

The chaplain-in-training was fired on Oct. 26, 2021.

In another case, DOI investigators concluded that a construction supervisor contracted by Health + Hospitals bought a fake vaccine card from Julie DeVuono, a nurse practitioner from Long Island.

DeVuono, who owns Wild Child Pediatric Center in Amityville, and her staffer, Marissa Urraro, were arrested in January and accused of earning $1.5 million for an alleged fake-card scheme that charged $220 for adults and $85 for children, according to prosecutors. They have both pleaded not guilty.

The contractor with Turner / McKissack Construction was fired.

Marital Misconduct

The city hospital system for years operated its own investigative unit, which mostly kept probes and findings hidden from the public.

In 2015, NYC H+H transferred control of its approximately 30 inspectors and support staff to the DOI.

Many of the investigations into employee or contractor misconduct were triggered by tips while some got flagged by supervisors or underlings, records show.

“NYC Health + Hospitals employees have given their all to New Yorkers throughout the pandemic,” said agency spokesperson Annais Morales. “When we receive DOI reports, we review them and take appropriate action as necessary.”

On Nov. 5, 2019, DOI got an anonymous email alleging Metropolitan Hospital Chief of Surgery Dr. Marc Wallack had his administrative staff plan his wedding.

The head of human resources at the hospital told investigators that she was told by staff the doctor was also using those employees to write thank you notes after the nuptials. Wallack denied the allegations, according to the records, but DOI substantiated the claim and concluded he used his position for “gain.”

The case was referred back to “corporate compliance,” according to the March 31, 2021, closing memo.

He’s employed by the Physician Affiliate Group of New York and remains the chair of surgery at Metropolitan Hospital, according to an online post.

Asked what happened to the doctor, a Health + Hospitals spokesperson on Thursday said the agency was “working on it” but needed more time because it was holiday season.

Through the Revolving Door

The DOI also concluded the former chief executive of the entire municipal hospital system, Dr. Ramanathan Raju, used his position to “broker” a new private sector job with Northwell Health.

He had been appointed to lead city hospitals by de Blasio in 2014 and left in 2016.

“Dr. Raju authorized an exception to Health + Hospitals policy that resulted in Northwell taking over the operation of an [agency] laboratory on an interim basis,” a DOI closing memo said.

The case was closed as “substantiated with no further action” on Sept. 1, 2020. Raju worked as senior vice president at Northwell Health from January 2017 until June 2020.

He currently teaches at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College and is a board member for the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt.

Raju and representatives at Hunter, a branch of the City University of New York, did not respond to a request for comment.

DOI declined to say if the closing memo into his misconduct was shared with college officials before he was hired.

Checked Out

And in a separate finding by the state comptroller’s office, NYC Health and Hospitals officials have failed to keep tabs on new equipment by putting information about them into the agency’s Fixed Asset Management computer system, according to a Dec. 20 audit.

Auditors checked a random 108 items at three different facilities, Harlem Hospital Center, Gotham Health, Belvis and South Queens Hospital.

Eighty-six of the items, all valued over $500, were properly tagged and accounted for, the review said. But 22 were not properly put into the agency’s central database and four were “not found,” according to the audit.

Hospital officials said one of the items was trashed in June 2022, the report said. But the so-called “relinquishment form” documenting the disposal wasn’t properly approved until Nov. 22, the day auditors visited the unnamed location, the audit said.

The state comptroller initially looked into the issue of lost equipment in an audit published in April 2021. That random review of 338 items of equipment couldn’t locate 18 items that initially cost $144,828.

“It’s unacceptable that HHC simply loses equipment worth thousands of dollars at a time when all agencies are looking at ways to tighten their belts,” state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli told THE CITY in a statement. “Our follow up audit found it has not done nearly enough to fix the problems we identified three years ago.”

It’s not just equipment that has gone missing.

In another case, DOI investigators in September 2019 got a complaint that five vials of the narcotic Dilaudid went missing from the Elmhurst Hospital pharmacy.

After the investigation began, the nurse on duty at the time resigned in February 2020, according to the closing memo. Officials at the facility then notified state licensing agencies about the probe and her resignation, the review said.

All told, DOI has 32 staffers who investigate approximately 1,400 complaints and background checks each year.

Most of the tips made to DOI about bad behaving hospital staff and contractors are never substantiated, records show.

The DOI inspector general got 1,424 complaints in the calendar year 2021, according to the department. Just 19 of those have been substantiated so far.

They got 1,495 allegations of abuse and requests for background checks this year as of Dec. 19, records show. Only 10 of those cases have been substantiated to date.

But DOI officials stressed that cases from years ago are still being investigated and the number of substantiated complaints will likely increase.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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