Bill aimed at cheating hospital inspectors

March 25, 2008 8:37:34 PM PDT
A state assembly committee on Tuesday passed legislation aimed at preventing cheating by hospital building inspectors.

Among those who testified, a whistleblower who says, as an inspector, he looked the other way many times.

"I've looked the other way and I know of many other inspectors who've had the same experiences where they've been offered kickbacks to sign off on projects," said former hospital inspector Tom Conway.

Tom Conway is a former veteran state hospital building inspector who has a terminal illness. He testified on Tuesday before the assembly health committee.

Inspectors like Conway are trained and certified by OSHPD, the Office of Statewide Health and Planning Development.

They monitor hospital construction projects to make sure there are permits and the work is up to code.

"I have cancer right now and I'd just like to clear my chest of past issues," said Conway.

ABC7 interviewed Conway last fall when we reported on the lack of safeguards against cheating by inspectors.

Committee members quoted Conway from ABC7's report. Conway says, the potential for cheating stems from the unusual way inspectors are paid and assigned jobs.

They get their money, not from the state, but from the very hospitals they monitor. What's more, it's the hospital which chooses the inspector for each job.

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber's bill would change the process.

"We think that leads to potential conflict of interest. We want to see these inspectors paid instead by the state, who then bill the hospital," said assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D) Mountain View.

The California Hospital Association opposes the bill. They say checks and balances already exist.

"There's the contractor, OSHPD and the hospital board that hires this person to assure that contractors are doing their job," said Kathryn Scott from the California Hospital Association.

The group that represents government engineers disagrees, they support the bill.

"This is simply a good government bill. It's a public safety bill, all it does is eliminate conflict of interest," said Ted Toppin from the Professional Engineers in California Association.

The Service Employees Union also believes the system can lead to conflict of interest.

"He who pays the piper calls the tune," said SEIU spokesperson Beth Capell.

"I've never been pressured to pass anything that wasn't per code," said a member from the Service Employees Union.

About a dozen inspectors testified they've never been asked to cheat.

"This bill came about because of the dishonest nature of the inspector we just heard from right here and it doesn't represent the inspection industry as a whole," said Jim Burlew from the American Construction Inspectors Association.

Late on Tuesday, the bill passed 9-3 and it will now go to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.


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