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County to See If It Can Recover Pay Doctors Got Without Work

Times Staff Writer

Disturbed that doctors in San Diego County jails have been paid tens of thousands of dollars for hours they did not work, the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday unanimously directed county administrators to examine those payments to determine whether any of money can be recovered.

An audit released this week showed that three doctors who worked part time in the jails received nearly $100,000 in salary and benefits for time not worked during the last fiscal year. The doctors received those payments under a 1965 policy that created a kind of quasi-retainer for physicians who, county officials feared, would otherwise have been unlikely to accept the work because of the relatively low hourly wage specified in county contracts.

Although complete records are not available, the audit for fiscal 1987-1988 suggests that the money paid for time not worked over the 24-year period when it was in effect could reach seven figures. The payment policy was changed last summer because of the audit, and doctors in county jails now are paid only for the hours they work.

Policy Not Illegal

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Characterizing the previous policy as being ill-advised but not illegal, county administrators already have said that no employees will be disciplined and that they will not seek repayment of the funds.

Wednesday’s board action, however, essentially asked Chief Administrative Officer Norman Hickey to reconsider that position and to determine whether the county has any legal grounds for seeking reimbursement.

“It is imperative that we determine if any recompense can be had, and that this practice be stopped and not allowed to be repeated,” Supervisor Susan Golding said.

Hickey’s office and the county counsel’s office are expected to report to the board on the matter in two weeks.

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