The Ventura County district attorney's office has launched a fraud inquiry into accusations that several Camarillo State Hospital doctors moonlighted at county psychiatric clinics while they were also being paid to work at the state facility.
The doctors, all psychiatric residents, allegedly were working part time for the county for about $44 an hour on state time, according to county and hospital sources.
Hospital officials have launched an internal investigation on the matter, said spokeswoman Maria Tejada. She declined to comment further.
Randall Feltman, the director of the Ventura County Department of Mental Health, said county mental health staff members were told by hospital officials that there was a mix-up about what times the doctors were required to work for the state.
In the wake of questions related to the doctors' schedules, a memo written in November by the directors of the Camarillo State Hospital residency program stated that the doctors were expected to be on duty at the hospital between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"No remunerative or other competing outside activities are permitted during assigned working hours," according to the memo written by program Director Robert Moebius and Assistant Director Robert Gruener. "Violation of this policy could result in suspension."
However, investigators are looking into the possibility that the violations continued after the memo was released, a hospital source said.
Neither Moebius nor Gruener could be reached for comment Wednesday.
As part of the Camarillo program, the state sometimes assigns doctors to shifts in county clinics as a way of gaining outside experience, but Feltman said the doctors are not paid by the county for their services in such cases. Doctors are permitted to work for the local facilities for extra money on their own time in the evenings, Feltman said.
In one case, according to a hospital source, a doctor thought he could make up for the time he spent at the county facilities by working at Camarillo in the evenings. Other doctors were coming in early to make up for the time that they spent working for the county, the source said.
"Whatever the misunderstanding was, it appears to have been clarified," Feltman said. "The issue right now is whether there was any kind of law broken or whether there was just some loose work-hour guideline. I don't think they were doing anything deliberate."
Don Coleman, special assistant district attorney, expects the office to complete its inquiry within the next few weeks. Coleman would not disclose the names of the doctors included in the inquiry. There are nine doctors in the hospital's residency program.
The district attorney's office started the inquiry after an employee at the hospital complained. It is the office's policy to assess the validity of all allegations of wrongdoing.
If investigators find evidence indicating that a crime was committed, the inquiry will then become a special investigation.
According to one resident Camarillo doctor, who asked not to be identified, moonlighting often substantially increases the pay of young psychiatrists at the state hospital. One doctor, he said, made an additional $4,000 in a month by working for the county.
Feltman said the county Department of Mental Health values the services of Camarillo doctors.
"It provides a good source of psychiatrists in Ventura County that we would not normally have," Feltman said. "We have gotten a number of very good doctors through that residency program, but the investigation threatens that source."