Hospital makes changes after I-Team investigation

May 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Changes are coming to the Laguna Honda Hospital Patient Gift Fund after an ABC7 I-Team investigation revealed how tens of thousands of dollars meant for improving the patients' lives has been spent on gourmet meals for the administration and staff, airline tickets and more.

Several reviews are underway to make sure all money donated for patients at the city's nursing home actually goes to them.

Laguna Honda Hospital is in San Francisco Supervisor Sean Elsbernd's district. He is concerned about last week's I-Team investigation into how the Patient Gift Fund is being spent.

"The last thing we want is something that is going to depress contributions; that fund is so critical to a lot of the services we provide to patients," Elsbernd said.

It is actually in the city administrative code that the Laguna Honda Hospital Gift Fund should be "for the general benefit and comfort of patients."

But public records show administrators spent tens of thousands of dollars on gourmet meals and barbecues for themselves and staff, airline tickets, even laser-etched pedometers for nurses.

"To me it's inexplicable, I mean Laguna Honda patients are the poorest of the poor," Dr. Maria Rivero said. "Basically they're taking from them to provide freshly catered meals for administrators and staff?"

Elsbernd is asking the city controller to investigate.

"What money came in from what sources for what intent and what money went out for what purposes and did that meet the intent of the donors that contributed to the fund," Elsbernd asked.

The deputy city controller says a brief review shows the hospital kept money that staff donated for employee training in a sub-account of the patient gift fund.

"In order to clarify and prevent any misunderstanding, we will be recommending that those funds be kept separately for the Laguna Gift Fund and that they be tracked separately away from the donations that are provided for the direct benefit of the residents," Monique Zmuda said.

And in a letter posted on its website, Laguna Honda officials wrote, "We will follow the recommendation so as to avoid any confusion about uses of the fund. Until a separate fund for staff support is established, we will not draw out any money for purposes other than patient care."

But that does not answer the essential question -- was money donated for the patients spent on food, travel and other extras for administration and staff?

"Well, we've been calling the city attorney to ask them to possibly look at it, they've been referring us to the controller, who I know is looking at it, but ultimately I'm not going to be satisfied until monies are repaid," Supervisor Chris Daly said.

Then, there is the issue of the strange welcome the I-Team received from Laguna Honda's Director of Community Relations Marc Slavin.

Slavin's boss, Director of Public Health Mitch Katz, declined an on camera interview, but he said Slavin's behavior was "unprofessional." He would not say whether Slavin faces discipline, or even if he still works at Laguna Honda, because it is a personnel issue.

Doctors and staff from Laguna Honda say they have never heard of a fund in which employees donate for employee education. The I-Team has asked for records to sort all this out and will get to the bottom of it.


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