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Medical Malpractice: Critics of the county hospital say administrators pay head of security Mark Mooring more than he's worth.

Safe and Sorry

For years, the county paid the head of hospital security more than it was supposed to. Yet insiders claim the security division is in disarray.

By Allie Gottlieb

SANTA CLARA County's Valley Medical Center recently hired a new security chief for roughly $99,000 a year. That's the very most the county legally can pay its chief of protective services. And that's with a 2004 job description update, which came with a pay raise of nearly $10,000.

What's interesting is that for the last five and a half years, even as the county was barreling toward the current budget low point, the Board of Supervisors approved more than double the pay that the position classification allows. They did this by routinely approving a consultant's contract without stopping to question whether it was worth the money.

Mark Mooring, who founded Proper Authorities L.L.C., a Los Angeles-based security consulting company specializing in hospitals, originally hammered out a deal with the county in July 1998 to assess the security division for $7,000. The price quickly expanded along with the job description, which eventually included having Mooring acting as chief. The former chief had taken a medical leave during this time and then quit. As recently as last June, the board was consistently forking over up to $125,000 for half the year, a sweet deal that hasn't escaped the notice of hospital security insiders.

But it wasn't until last December that anyone criticized paying up to a quarter of a million dollars annually to fill the position with Mooring. Even by Valley Medical Center administration's conservative estimate (which doesn't include what was paid from 1998 through 2000), the county has shelled out $524,000 to Mooring since 2001.

That expenditure finally has a few folks complaining.

"This is an example of what can be common in the county," Supervisor Pete McHugh said through an aide. "We have contracts that can drag on and on. This is a practice that shouldn't be perpetuated."

Giving It Away

To be fair to hospital administrators, they did put the security chief out for bid but got no qualified candidates. Then, after Sept. 11, state and federal guidelines changed, requiring Valley Medical to reclassify the chief position. Before that could happen, the hospital had to reclassify five job positions—nurses, pharmacological techs, diagnostic techs, lab techs and respiratory therapists—because employees from these areas were leaving the medical field during the dotcom boom. "To be honest, we don't have the most nimble human resource system in the world," says hospital spokeswoman Joy Alexiou. "We can't do all the things we want to in a timely manner."

But even some of the guards who work for Mooring can't understand his salary scale.

"It's not just that we're paying for it," one of the county's 47 hospital security guards, also called protective services officers, said recently. The guard, who asked that his name not be used for fear that his bosses might retaliate, was speaking also as a taxpayer. "It's that we're paying extra for it."

The county initially contracted with Proper Authorities expecting hospital administrators to find a permanent employee to fill the position within a year. Last December, two supervisors on the board started to question the deal for the first time.

The board last voted at the Dec. 12, 2003, meeting to extend Mooring's contract. But what usually was a quick consent calendar matter turned into a lengthy discussion. Several Valley Medical Center employees spoke out against Health and Hospital System executive director Bob Sillen's request to extend the arrangement.

According to the board meeting minutes, Guy Libby, a Valley Medical Center security officer at the time, expressed to the board "disapproval of the salary and expenses for direct protective services consultants, suggesting that the funds be expended for retraining workers and attracting staff to provide direct patient care."

Supervisors Liz Kniss and McHugh responded to the concerns voiced by Libby and other hospital workers who complained about how long administrators were taking and how much cash they were spending to settle on a permanent chief of protective services. Kniss observed that the lengthy recruitment process coupled with the fact that the county paid living expenses (on top of a fat paycheck) for an interloping contractor "may not represent the best business practices of the county."

McHugh added, "The housing allowance and other benefits for the contractor are excessive."

Kniss and McHugh cast the losing "no" votes against the contract extension. The board did direct hospital administrators to finally hire a permanent replacement. Three months later, however, the county's contract with Proper Authorities remained in effect. In March, the county was paying Mooring $73.50 an hour and $110.25 for each overtime hour to work as a consultant, rather than the $44.70 hourly wage set for the job, plus a $1,000-a-month housing allowance.

Finally, at the end of last month, the county hired Mooring as an employee after hiking the salary range in time for him to begin at the highest wage tier.

On Guard

Meanwhile, hospital security guards working under the well-paid Mooring are stewing not only over their chief's hefty endowment but also over the working environment he's commanded during that time.

Every officer has a different story, all of which reinforce each other and, at points, converge. One common contention that several security officers brought up during conversations this month is that Mooring and his assistant chief of protective services, Phillip Pitts, target staff members who exercise their union rights or clash with management.

One former security officer called the county sheriff's office in March 2003 to report that Pitts sent him to the hospital emergency room with an injured finger. The officer no longer works for the county but still asked to remain anonymous to protect his career. He says that as a union steward, he went to Pitts' office one day to represent another security division employee who anticipated that Pitts might try to discipline him for something.

The two security guards told deputies in a May 2003 report that Pitts told the union steward not to talk during the meeting. The steward argued back that employees had the legal right to confer with each other in this situation. Pretty soon Pitts was kicking the steward out of the office. During that confrontation, the clashing men stood facing each other by the office doorway, and according to the security officers' statements, Pitts bent the union representative's finger back with his body.

Pitts denied responsibility for spraining the guard's finger. He also accused deputies of taking his statement incorrectly in their original report. Deputies noted in a later addition to the report that "the original report was accurate regarding what Pitts told them ... and that he was now lying if he was changing that portion of his statement."

Firing the Victim

In the end, Mooring's administration fired the security officer with the sprained finger. Pitts, on the other hand, received no discipline despite being suspected of assault. Oddly, before choosing to fire the officer, Mooring and company put a few offers on the table to keep him there—so long as he promised to drop all complaints against the division. The officer declined.

Another security guard confesses to acting as a spy for management (in exchange for being hired despite a spotty credit record). He wrote a five-page statement in December detailing how Mooring and Pitts used him to spy on guards whom they considered "troublemakers" and to discern whether employees sided with management or the union. The guard also followed a management directive to start a petition to impeach union officers. That effort failed.

A third employee, who at one point filed a written complaint against one of the union stewards at management's behest, later retracted it. "I did not understand what was taking place when I was told [by supervisors] to make a complaint that day," he wrote in a second signed statement.

Some of these former and current protective services officers, who are represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 715, turned their complaints into union grievances. The sheriff's report suspecting Pitts of assault indicates that the charge would make its way to the district attorney's office, but it hasn't.

County Counsel Ann Ravel confirms her office is conducting an investigation into personnel matters at the protective-services division. But citing the legal requirements, she wouldn't give specifics.

Lucky Star

The job description for chief of protective services can evoke a creepy post-9/11 image of someone in a position of vague, overarching power. The chief "implements solutions to special problems," "conducts in-depth investigations," "provides for surveillance and access control systems," "acts as a resource person for division and unit managers by gathering background information on suspicious or problem-causing persons and identifying ways to change inappropriate behavior."

The chief oversees a $1.5 million budget for monitoring security over the hospital system's 40-structure, 1.4-million-square-foot campus as well as eight primary care facilities run by the county.

"We're a little city," say Sue Murphy, director of the hospital.

Mooring was a rare find, Murphy says, since his experience straddles security operations and the health-care context. Mooring did not return calls to discuss his qualifications, but his website touts his credits as a retired Los Angeles police officer and a certified health-care protection administrator.

"He was highly recommended as having a superior level of expertise." Murphy adds, explaining why the county wanted Mooring. "We didn't know of anyone locally."

Mooring's assignment with the county included restructuring the security department, creating a lead officer job description and finding someone to fill the position. And, obviously, he eventually found himself.

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From the May 26-June 1, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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