BEDFORD, N.Y. — A nurse at a New York prison raked in more than $630,000 in overtime in less than five years, putting on her time cards that she worked 192 days straight — or every day for more than six months — mostly in 16.5-hour overnight shifts, according to records obtained by The Journal News.
The registered nurse, 62-year-old Mercy Mathew of Pomona, was the state’s highest overtime earner in 2012, netting $150,630 on top of her $58,468 salary at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. She also snagged the title in 2009, when she made $171,814 in overtime.
According to her time cards, Mathew’s designated work schedule was 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., but she routinely stayed until 7:30 a.m. the next morning without a break. On days off, she often collected 16.5 hours of overtime for a single shift. Mathew worked more than 90 percent of the available days between Dec. 18, 2008, and Sept. 4, 2013. Even though she resigned Oct. 11, 2013, she still managed to break into the top 20 overtime earners last year.
“She must have been the bionic nurse in her time to be able to work that many hours without any rest,” said Democratic state Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, who has been a critic of wasteful spending by the state Department of Corrections.
“The time of giving state agencies a blank check has to end.”
The Journal News obtained Mathew’s time cards for 2009-2013 from the Department of Corrections in August after winning an appeal of a denial of its Freedom of Information Law request filed in January. Mathew, who is listed with the town of Haverstraw’s assessor’s office as owning a $443,000 home, could not be reached for comment. A reporter twice knocked on her door, but there was no answer and tried to reach Mathew and her relatives numerous times by telephone.
Mathew’s six-figure overtime compensation continued after the DOC told the state Senate in 2010 that it would curb its overtime spending at the Bedford Hills prison.
DOC spokeswoman Linda Foglia refused to answer questions about the seemingly impossible number of hours Mathew worked, including whether she slept at the prison, why her constant presence there was needed or if the DOC ever questioned her time cards. Mathew was first hired April 26, 2007 and worked for the DOC until Feb. 14, 2008. She was rehired Dec. 8, 2008.
Foglia would not discuss the reason for Mathew’s resignation. Asked whether a single nurse continues to pull in so much overtime since Mathew’s departure, Foglia said, “The overtime is being distributed amongst several nurses, not one individual.”
Last year, Mathew was the state’s 19th highest overtime earner, making more than $95,800 in overtime, followed by a correctional officer at the facility, Naresh Deosarran, who made more than $95,300 in overtime.
Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Albany-based Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative government watchdog group, said overtime should be reserved for emergencies.
“Why is it necessary for this person year after year after year to be working so much overtime?” he asked. “Is it not cheaper to hire somebody else? … It doesn’t seem right.”
In 2010, then-DOC Commissioner Brian Fischer pledged to cut down on overtime spending at the prison after Klein, who chaired the Senate’s Task Force on Government Efficiency, released a report outlining more than $15 million in wasteful spending by the agency through overtime pay and administrative and housing costs. The report found that in fiscal years 2008-2009, the DOC spent $87 million in overtime — 20 percent of the overtime spent by the entire state.
During a public forum held that year by the Senate, Fischer acknowledged the DOC is “probably not” as tight as it should be on overtime and nobody at Bedford Hills was happy with the situation. Mathew chose to work weekends and days off, he said, adding that he was prevented by union contracts from telling her she can’t work more than five days straight. Employees can work as much as they choose, with the exception of more than 16 hours in a given day, he said.
He noted that he could only step in if he believes an employee is “sleepy, staggering” or “making mistakes on her meds.” Mathew “may even be living on the grounds of Bedford Hills,” he said, but wasn’t more specific. He also said the DOC didn’t have a lot of medical staff at the facility but had hired several new people and Mathew’s overtime was expected to go down. It did not.
Lorry Schoenly, a Pennsylvania-based correctional health care risk consultant, said working such long hours can leave a nurse prone to making mistakes, such as administering the wrong quantity of medication or not referring a patient to an emergency room, even if it’s needed.
“It just doesn’t sound possible to be able to get the rest you need in order to make the right decisions,” she said. It can also put the nurse’s safety at risk, she said.
“There’s a potential if you’re fatigued to make poor safety decisions or to miss some signals that would indicate you’re in danger.”
© 2014 USA Today
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