The nine Connecticut state employees arrested by police for abuse of a patient at the Whiting Forensic Division of Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown continue to be paid by the state, according to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
A spokeswoman for DMHAS, Diana Lejardi, confirmed that none of the arrested employees have been terminated and that they remain on paid administrative leave because the investigation is ongoing.
The SEIU 1199 state employee contract supersedes state law, which says paid leave cannot exceed two months, and allows employees to remain on lengthy paid administrative leave until all investigations are complete.
Furthermore, five of those nine employees arrested will still be eligible for their pensions and retirement healthcare benefits under Connecticut state statute.
The abuse, which was captured on video, came to public attention following a report by the Hartford Courant, which detailed the allegations.
An additional 31 employees were placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of the investigation.
Co-chair of the Public Health Committee Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, says the paid administrative leave and pensions for the arrested employees “is not something I like, but it is a contractual obligation.”
“There is due process,” Somers said. “But if found guilty, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Somers also said she was “disappointed by the passive response,” by DMHAS. “They should have come forward sooner, not after the media reports.” Somers is calling for a public hearing about the abuse.
Of the nine arrested, five reached the required 10 year vestment period which makes them eligible for a state pension. According to state law, an employee can only lose their pension if they defrauded the state of money.
Termination because of abuse does not prevent a state employee from receiving their pension and healthcare upon reaching retirement age.
Cases of abuse in the past have prompted some calls for reforming the state statutes regarding pension revocation – most notably from then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in 2008 – but no action has been taken.
In 2011, Ellis K. Hagstrom confessed to police that he had physically and sexually abused two disabled women while working for the Department of Developmental Services. Even after confession to police, Hagstrom remained on administrative leave and collected $64,000 in salary.
Hagstrom is eligible to collect his pension when he is released from prison in 2030.
The employees arrested in the Whiting case and who are eligible for a pension had been earning large amounts of overtime pay in 2016, according to the state’s transparency website. Overtime is used to calculate an employee’s pension.
- Mark Cusson earned $90,667 in base pay with an additional $69,988 in overtime.
- Robert Larned earned $64,944 in base pay with an additional $43,002 in overtime.
- Bruce Holt earned $64,100 in base pay with an additional $34,735 in overtime.
- Willie Bethea earned $42,052 in base pay with an additional $22,007 in overtime.
- And Lance Camby earned $59,037 in base pay with an additional $33,126 in overtime.
Employees of Whiting Forensic Hospital can often be mandated to work overtime, but the large payouts have led some lawmakers – including Sen. Somers – to call for a review of how overtime is handled at the hospital.
Those overtime payments may continue to grow however, as staff will be needed to cover for the 31 employees now on paid administrative leave due to the investigation.
According to state statute, paid administrative leave cannot exceed two months. However, the SEIU 1199 union contract supersedes state law and can result in lengthy leaves, particularly when an investigation involves police.
According to the SEIU 1199 contract, DMHAS must seek permission from the Office of Labor relations to grant an extended administrative leave. However, the SEIU 1199 contract does not appear to give the labor relations office much choice in the matter.
The contract says “The Office of Labor Relations shall, in consultation with the Union, approve such request, or offer alternative suggestions.”
A recent audit of the Department of Developmental Services revealed that an employee spent more than one year and earned $81,500 while on leave pending an investigation into abuse allegations. DDS said the employee – part of SEIU 1199 – was granted a long leave because the contract supersedes state statute.
The DDS employee was eventually terminated from the agency.
Lejardi says the length of leave for the 31 suspended employees “varies as staff were placed on administrative leave as the agency became aware of each individual’s involvement in the alleged abuse.”
Senator Somers says she hopes to work with the state employee union to make sure something like this never happens again.
“The union has an obligation to the state of Connecticut,” she said. “We need to provide care for these patients who come to us, not torment them.”