November 11, 2011 08:46 AM
Cook County Doc Gets Big Payout for No Work
County hospital pays doctor $80,000 while he’s on unpaid leave—now officials want to know whether this was an isolated mistake, or something worse.
By Patrick Rehkamp/BGA with NBC Chicago
Many doctors at the Cook County Health and Hospital System work long hours and difficult shifts for relatively modest pay compared to the private health care industry. But one long-time county physician sure got a nice bonus earlier this year: he was paid an extra $80,000 while on a personal leave of absence that was supposed to be unpaid, the Better Government Association has learned.
Prompted by inquiries from the BGA, county officials are trying to determine whether the additional taxpayer-funded pay given to Dr. James Kapotas was an isolated error, or if others working for the county’s financially strapped health system have gotten money they weren’t entitled to.
Kapotas has not been accused of wrongdoing, and he insists he didn’t even know he had been overpaid.
Following questions from the BGA, he formally resigned from his county post and cut a check, refunding the $80,000 or so that he was wrongly paid over a roughly four-month stretch.
"Look, all I did was ask for a leave of absence," said Kapotas, an orthopedic surgeon who took a leave from the county in late April and currently is working in central Indiana. "The people in payroll made a mistake."
Marisa Kollias, a spokeswoman for the county health system, echoed that assertion, calling the situation "a big clerical error."
"At this time, the investigation reveals no criminal intent on the part of Cook County Health and Hospital System staff," Kollias said.
But the county’s inspector general is continuing to investigate. In addition, an "internal review" is on-going to "evaluate controls, both to identify the process failure [and] to develop action plans to further strengthen the system so that incidents such as this do not happen in the future," Kollias said.
Kapotas, who worked at the county for 12 years, had been making $216 an hour, and was mistakenly compensated at that rate for hundreds of hours in unused sick and vacation time, Kollias said.
This story was reported and written by BGA Senior Investigator Patrick Rehkamp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9030.