Contact 13 Investigates
You Paid For It: Health District workers paid to not work
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- They're nurses, environmental health specialists, accountants, lab technicians -- public health employees paid to not serve the public after the Health District suddenly shut down its headquarters.
Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears uncovers how much you paid for it.
What would you do with some unexpected paid time off? Tee it up for an afternoon on the links? Maybe hit the mall? Take in a movie? Or just enjoy a backyard staycation.
Dozens of Health District employees recently found themselves with paid time on your dime. Instead of serving the public, they were told to stay away from work.
"The taxpayers are once again on the hook. This is like giving someone an extra week's vacation!" exclaimed County Commissioner Steve Sisolak.
"Can the people who need public health here afford to pay a nurse to sit at home?" Darcy Spears asked County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani.
"No. No," she emphatically replied.
Twenty-five nurses are among 70 public health employees put on paid administrative leave during the week following the Health District's closure of its Shadow Lane headquarters.
Total tab to taxpayers? Nearly $22,000.
"I knew from the beginning that this was going to be a very challenging situation" said Southern Nevada Health District Chief Health Officer Dr. Larry Sands. "And people will have their opinions about the decisions that we made."
Darcy: "Should we be saying 'shame on you' to the Health District for making this decision that cost taxpayers all this money?
Steve Sisolak: "I think we should certainly be saying show me the reason you had to do it so quickly."
The Health District's reason is in an engineering report released on April 16.
That's the day the District closed its public health center because the structural assessment said the building was in danger of falling down.
Engineers found it was built without an internal support structure to help it withstand high winds and earthquakes. The report says the building "appears to be unsafe and should not be occupied further until the inadequacies are addressed."
"We've had strong winds in Vegas for as long as I've lived here," said a skeptical Commissioner Giunchigliani.
In fact, the building has been serving the Vegas public since 1964 -- without that support system.
"And why suddenly, one day, snap! ...you gotta lock the doors and nobody can come in? That baffled me," said Commissioner Sisolak.
The day the report was published, the Health District shut its doors to staff and the public, saying they saw the writing on the wall.
Dr Sands: "Under the circumstances where you have a report that says that the building doesn't have an internal support system and is unsafe to occupy, it didn't seem wise to..."
Darcy: "Even have one more day?"
Dr. Sands: "Right."
Darcy: "Not one more hour?"
Dr. Sands: "Right."
Darcy: "After 50 years."
Dr. Sands: "Correct."
You could call it Monday morning quarterbacking, but the reality is that the building is still standing and still in the same shape as the day the District shut it down, meaning they weren't in sudden death overtime and didn't have to evacuate on a dime.
"There is no way we can afford this type of bureaucratic boondoggle," Sisolak said.
The Health District closed the building without a plan for how and where to keep employees working.
One nurse got over $1,000 in paid leave and four other employees made more than $800 each in that first week following the closure.
Darcy: "You're proud that it only took a week to get everything back on line?"
Dr. Sands: "I think staff did a tremendous job to minimize the impact."
But Commissioner Giunchigliani, who sits on the Board of Health, says it sends the wrong message.
"It says that in light of the circumstances, we would rather pay people to stay home and not work. And I don't think that's the message that anybody wants to have."
With staff told to stay home, Dr. Sands acknowledges that the public wasn't being fully served.
"Some of the sports physical exams and healthy kids exams and some daycare exams as well as lead screening wasn't being provided for a short period of time."
And because the main building housed the County's only sexual health clinic and the HIV early intervention clinic, Sands says those went offline too, so those services had to be re-established.
They're still not up to full speed. And that's not all.
"I've had complaints from people who have spent three days trying to get their health card--they've been offered a job--and that puts them at risk of losing the job!" says Giunchigliani.
Darcy: "Should the taxpayers be happy that their money was spent to let people hang out at home, go golfing, go shopping, see a movie, whatever they may have done with their paid time off?"
Dr. Sands: "I would say that that was something that was needed to be done."
Guess what else they did?
They charged taxpayers nearly $7900 in overtime to make up for all the missed work... bringing the total to almost $30,000. And it could still go up.
Commissioners say it all could have been avoided.
"It goes back to management, leadership and proper planning, and none of those were in place," Giunchigliani says.
So far, City building inspectors have not officially condemned the Health District building. They're checking over the engineering report and doing their own independent study of how bad the place really is.
North Las Vegas has offered the Health District its old city hall for free for two years, but the District hasn't taken them up on that.
They say they're looking at several options for a new centralized facility and hope to present plans to the Board of Health by the end of this month.