SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn – which has been going through some difficult financial straits lately – gave permission to a prominent “restructuring” consultant to bill New York State for $83,000 in luxury travel, lodging and dining expenses, according to a harshly critical audit just released by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
As reported by the New York Post, the audit discovered that the expenditures included high-priced rooms at the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side, a liquor-filled “team dinner” at the Docks Oyster Bar in Midtown, and sticker-shock bills for limousine transportation.
Pitts Management Associates, which is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was hired in 2011 to find methods to cut costs at the financially struggling state university-run hospital. But the consultants themselves were taking excess advantage of their expense accounts, with SUNY Downstate staff members approving sky-high reimbursements for expenses, according to the state audit of expenses from March through August 2014.
Moreover, the audit accused executives at Downstate of violating spending rules for their own benefit.
At the very beginning, the audit stated, Downstate President John Williams charged his state-issued credit card for his airfare and some of his time spent at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel in Bermuda, where he attended a mammoth six-day birthday blowout for Pitts CEO David Pitts in July 2014.
“Auditors found tens of thousands of dollars in monthly hotel costs and expensive dinners on the public’s dime at a time when Downstate was supposed to be getting its fiscal house in order,” DiNapoli charged.
Although Downstate is located in Brooklyn, leading Pitts executives lodged at Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel, including a $1,419 charge for a single night’s stay. Astoundingly, one consultant totaled $14,193 in weekend expenses at the Brooklyn Marriott, even though he traveled home on weekends.
The audit also uncovered inappropriate meal expenses of $13,629, including $3,867 in free meals that Pitts billed for Downtown-Long Island College Hospital staff members. This was in addition to a boozy $2,039 “team dinner” at Docks.
DiNapoli recommended that SUNY Downstate recover at least $41,513 from Pitts and called on SUNY Downstate to strengthen its oversight of consultant’s bills.
SUNY Vice Chancellor and CFO Eileen McLoughlin admitted “that improvements are needed in the procurement and payment areas at Downstate,” and said “efforts are under way to make those changes.”
To be sure, the hospital has some notable accomplishments to its credit. SUNY Downstate Medical Center, located in central Brooklyn, is the only academic medical center for health education, research, and patient care serving Brooklyn’s 2.5 million residents.
Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, Schools of Graduate Studies and Public Health, and University Hospital of Brooklyn. It also includes a major research complex and biotechnology facilities.
SUNY Downstate ranks eighth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City graduated from Downstate than from any other medical school. With 1,040 residents (young physicians in training), Downstate's residency program is the 16th largest in the country.