Officials question double dipping

Probe: Moonlighting by mental health workers is reviewed after a psychiatrist at Spring Grove was paid for working two state jobs at the same time.

October 18, 2004|By Fred Schulte | Fred Schulte,SUN STAFF

Six months after being convicted of fraud for submitting phony bills to the Medicaid health plan for the poor, Dr. Kripa S. Kashyap got a fresh start - with the same state agency he had bilked.

Things seemed to work out well. The psychiatrist, hired in 1987 at the Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville, ended up holding a top-level job in the state-run institution for the mentally ill.

But Kashyap was quietly forced out of his $120,492-a-year post in late June after state auditors accused him of pocketing thousands of dollars by falsifying time sheets while he worked two state jobs at once.

The incident has led state officials to review moonlighting practices by psychiatrists and other mental health workers as well as keep closer tabs on the hours they are working.

Spring Grove's superintendent, Dr. David Helsel, called it "an isolated case," but state legislators said the incident exposed supervisory flaws.

"It's very sloppy oversight on the part of the agency not to know someone is working two places at the same time," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat.

"How could that be?" asked state Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat. "How could they not pick up on that?"

Nobody at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which employed Kashyap, would discuss how he could pick up checks from two arms of the state agency at the same time.

State law, they said, prohibited them from commenting on his hiring or his departure.

"That is not something we would discuss," said agency spokesman John Hammond. "It's clear we cannot discuss employee records."

The state focused on the doctor in April, after a tipster reported allegations of double-dipping to a state fraud hot line.

A team from the Office of Legislative Audits found that while Kashyap collected his regular salary, he also drew pay as a private consultant at facilities run by his agency and by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

For instance, Spring Grove and the health department's Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents in Baltimore paid Kashyap for at least 160 "overlapping hours" between July of last year and February of this year, for which he improperly received about $8,800, auditors said.

The doctor also received $700 biweekly for being "on call" at correctional facilities, auditors found. How much he earned that way was not reported.

Kashyap said in an interview that he "should have been more careful" about reporting hours he worked for the state as a private consultant.

"I blame myself for being sloppy in timekeeping," he said. "I had no problems at all until this. I have been a conscientious state employee. I worked very hard."

Auditors said the consulting job appeared to violate an executive order issued by the governor last year that banned moonlighting that conflicts with official duties.

Kashyap's outside work also might have violated state ethics laws that bar agencies from hiring their employees as contractors unless "extraordinary circumstances" exist, auditors said.

"Not only did he have a conflict, he was being paid at a third place for being on call," said legislative auditor Bruce A. Myers.

Moreover, state health department employees must sign a "code of conduct" and ethics policy that prohibits them from "knowingly presenting any claim for payment or approval that is inaccurate, false, fictitious or fraudulent."

Health officials referred the audit findings to the state attorney general's office, which declined to comment. Kashyap has not been charged with a crime.

Kashyap, 62, a board-certified psychiatrist trained in part at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has been licensed in Maryland since 1973.

In January 1987, while a psychiatrist in private practice, Kashyap pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court to a single count of billing Medicaid for services he didn't perform. The Medicaid program is administered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

After an investigation by the state attorney general, Kashyap was sentenced to a year in jail, which was suspended, and placed on five years' probation, according to state medical board records.

The court also fined him $10,000 and ordered him to repay $146,391 to Medicaid.

In May 1987, noting his fraud conviction, the Maryland Board of Physicians suspended Kashyap's medical license for two weeks and placed him on probation for five years.

The state hired Kashyap that June, and he joined the medical staff at Spring Grove. Kashyap was associate clinical director there when he left state employ June 22. Available records do not indicate whether the state officials who hired him knew about Kashyap's conviction.

"This raises questions about hiring procedures," Rosenberg said. "They've got to do a better job of screening."

Helsel, the superintendent at Spring Grove, said it was "unlikely" that anyone with a criminal conviction would be hired by the state mental health system today.

Policies for keeping track of employee work hours have been tightened in response to the case, officials said.

In a written response to auditors, officials said they had ordered hospital department heads to "update and verify" work schedules for all workers, and to make random checks to ensure they were on the job during the hours reported.

The response noted that neither Spring Grove Hospital nor the independently run children's unit knew the other had the doctor on its payroll. Kashyap might not have been missed because his job required him to leave the hospital periodically, the response said.

"This provided the employee with more of an opportunity for his absence not to be detected," officials said.

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