by Matt Rosenberg March 1st, 2012
According to a University of Washington internal audit report obtained by Public Data Ferret through the Washington Public Records Act, King County’s Harborview Medical Center – which is managed by the UW Medicine unit – last June 30 fired a recreational therapist in the Burn Therapy Department named Kim Beitelspacher after she misappropriated more than $17,000 from HMC’s petty cash account. She did this by getting approvals from an inattentive manager for double reimbursements of numerous portable DVD players she bought for recuperating burn patients. According to its web site Harborview is the sole Level 1 trauma and burn center for adults and children serving Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
Now, a state audit of the case is nearing completion
Responding to suggestions in the UW internal audit, Harborview management pledged to work with University Student Fiscal Services to seek restitution from Beitelspacher, 50, of Puyallup, and to “work with the Seattle Police Department to ensure that the case is filed with the King County Prosecutor’s Office” by November 2011. The case was reported to Seattle Police on July 22, 2011, but the prosecutor’s office reports there is no active case involving Beitelspecher. Seattle Police Department spokesman Sean Whitcomb said the case is assigned to the department’s fraud and forgery unit and their investigation is continuing.
Petty Cash abuses sparked investigation
The UW internal audit was done after the cashier’s office at Harborview noticed heavy use of the hospital’s central petty cash account by the Burn Therapy Department and a preliminary review showed a number of duplicate receipts turned in for reimbursement by Beitelspacher from Fred Meyer and Target in Puyallup, where she lives. For burn therapy patients at 14 Harborview locations Beitelspacher bought and stocked items to aid in their recovery such as DVD and CD players, movies, CDs, toys, party supplies and food items.
Altered duplicate receipts fed the reported reimbursement scam
The UW audit found Beitelspacher misappropriated $17,910 between February of 2010 and March of 2011 by submitting duplicate receipts and being doubly reimbursed from Harborview’s central petty cash fund on behalf of the Burn Outpatient Therapy program for items purchased, mainly portable DVD players. Interviewed for the audit, Beitelspacher admitted she altered receipts to hide that they were duplicates and therefore get reimbursed, by cutting off the tops and bottoms off them and using white-out. According to the audit, in addition, “most of the receipts were defaced” by Beitelspacher with writing so that date, time and transaction number were obscured.
Lax oversight compounded the reported problem
The then-manager of the Burn Therapy Department did not review the frequency of petty cash reimbursement requests for the department, the validity of related receipts, or actual spending in the non-medical supplies budget – which were 235% over budget for February of 2011 and 122% percent over budget for the last 12 months from then.
Another oversight weakness identified in the UW audit was that Beitelspacher was allowed not just to buy the portable DVD players but also to prepare the reimbursement requests, and do inventory counts and logging. In the audit, the department pledged not only to seek restitution from and see to the prosecution of Beitelspacher, but also to institute new oversight procedures to better validate reimbursements and segregate the conflicting duties she handled.
According to the UW audit, Beitelspacher also admitted to returning some of the portable DVD players she bought to the place of purchase. Overall, she was reimbursed by Harborview for 152 portable DVD players from February 2010 to March 2011. After meeting with UW Internal Audit she was asked to take inventory and reported 69 of the devices on hand but her department later counted 56. According to the audit, “Ms. Beitelspacher attributed the significant discrepancy to theft.”
Beitelspacher earned $58K per year
Agency salary information on UW from the State Office of Financial Management indicates Beitelspacher’s salary as Recreational Therapist II in fiscal year 2011 (July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011) was $58,359.93.
A call to Beitelspacher about the case on the evening of Feb. 29 was not returned.
(Update, 4/17/12: The Washington State Auditor’s office today released its own fraud investigation report on the case, verifying the university’s findings and recommending the university seek $17,910 in restitution from Beitelspacher plus $3,093 to reimburse the state for its audit costs. The university said it was seeking those amounts from her.)
How our report on this case originated
Unlike the Washington State Auditor’s Office which posts online all audit and whistleblower reports, any special (non-programmatic) investigative reports by the UW Internal Audit division are not voluntarily posted online; and can only be viewed in full, on an individual basis, if they are requested under Washington’s Public Records Act. Recently, Public Data Ferret requested the executive summaries of all 2011 special investigative reports from UW Internal Audit. Based on the 15 summaries received, Public Data Ferret sought full copies of seven for further review, including the Harborview burn therapy unit misappropriation investigation.