© 2024 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

NY comptroller audit faults SUNY Upstate for ‘insufficient oversight’ of extra pay, off-campus work

Upstate Medical University

An audit by the New York State Comptroller’s Office finds that Upstate Medical University has insufficiently monitored $4.7 million it has paid in additional compensation to some employees, over the past four years. The audit finds numerous other problems with how human resources works at SUNY Upstate. 

Upstate distributes $10 million in extra payments to about 800 employees annually. They are usually of limited duration, like a faculty member being selected for a department chair position. But the audit finds that the added pay is appearing to go towards achieving a particular salary, or incentives to work at Upstate. Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the state comptroller’s office said that hasn’t been documented properly.

“It goes for transparency and accountability that you need to have policies and procedures in place to make sure dollars are spent wisely and that these are, indeed, necessary payments," Johnson said. "That just makes sense.”

In response, a statement from Upstate said they have a responsibility to “attract, hire, and retain the best doctors” and have made changes to ensure they can “continue to competitively compensate top medical professionals.”

The audit also finds that many off-campus assignments, totaling close to a $1 million, were “not useful,” of poor quality or inadequate, as told by supervisors. The assignments included independent studies for billing purposes, staffing models and retention, and overcrowding in emergency departments. But supervisors described it as “busy work,” copy and pasted, not reflective of the time given and anything handed in would be acceptable. Nearly $150,000 worth of assignments weren’t even completed.    

“The supervisors told us that their HR department did not clearly define or communicate requirements for overseeing these off campus assignments and more HR guidance is needed,” Johnson said.

The audit also criticized the SUNY System Administration for continuing to pay former Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena her annual presidential salary of $600,000, after she stepped down to an assistant position, while it simultaneously paid the interim-president his presidential salary. The state comptroller's office will do a follow-up audit in a year.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.