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For Law-Breakers, Zero Tolerance

You decide to leave work early and give a colleague your Kronos card to slide through the time-keeping machine at the end of a shift. Or, you know you’ll be late for work and tell a co-worker to “take my card and swipe me in.”

In both cases, you’re breaking institution rules—and the law. You could lose your job and wind up in court.

“People don’t think they are doing something wrong, but they are,” says Joanne Pollak, Hopkins Medicine vice president and general counsel. “You’re stealing money from the institution by claiming you worked when you didn’t. We want people to understand that even if they are just helping a friend, both could be prosecuted for that kind of behavior.”

Payroll fraud, thefts over $500, identity or information theft and drug “diversions” get referred to a little-known Health System oversight group, the Investigation Resolution Committee. The IRC is made up of HR, Security, Legal, Financial and Internal Audit representatives who advise the presidents of the Health System affiliates on these cases. It was created in 2004 to recommend consistent guidelines to the affiliates for dealing with serious employee misbehavior.

In the past, recalls Pollak, who chairs IRC monthly meetings, decisions to prosecute varied widely. “The same types of behaviors within the Health System were being handled differently.” Now, the IRC reviews cases from a systemwide perspective. Though each affiliate’s president has the final say, the IRC’s advice has been followed in every instance.

This has led to criminal charges against nine people, two civil cases and the dismissal of 27 employees. Violations involved stolen laptop computers, the theft of thousands of dollars of stamps, prescription fraud, identity theft and 16 cases of drug diversions.

Before the panel votes on a case, it hears from department officials and Corporate Security, which has the primary responsibility for fraud and theft investigation within the Health System. According to John Bergbower, who handles most of the investigations for the IRC, these inquiries can be complex and lengthy due to the amount of documentation that must be obtained and reviewed, such as payroll sheets and copies of checks that were sent and cashed. And at times, the nature of the investigation may require assistance from the Office of Internal Audit and others as necessary.

Kronos card fraud is relatively simple to track because most departments also keep old-fashioned time sheets for hourly workers. The two documents must match.

Pollak and IRC representatives also are concerned about another growing problem—information snooping in the Electronic Patient Record. Looking up a friend’s medical records is a violation of privacy laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Dismissal and prosecution could result.

“Management is taking this very, very seriously,” says Pollak. “We want the message to get out that the Health System is serious about illegal or inappropriate behavior and it will not be tolerated.”

Barry Rascovar

 

 

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