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Auditors Examine Donated Leave Program

Sept. 20, 2005 – An audit of the territory's Donated Leave Program got pretty good marks from the V.I. Inspector General's office, but auditors did find a few glitches. The audit covered the years 2000 through 2001.
The program is administered by the Finance Department to allow fellow employees to donate some of their unused sick leave and vacation time — called annual leave in government parlance — to their colleagues with serious medical problems who have used up their own sick and vacation time. This allows the colleagues to continue getting paid.
The Legislature passed a bill allowing the program in 1994.
According to the audit, the Finance Department failed to implement rules and regulations to serve as a guideline for the program. However, it determined that rules and regulations had recently been drafted.
The auditors found fault with the fact that the decision on whether an employee will be allowed to participate in the Donated Leave Program rests solely with the finance commissioner. The term catastrophic health condition or injury was not defined, leaving the decision on whether an illness fell into the catastrophic category up to the finance commissioner.
"Our audit has found some disapproval of donated leave requests that in our opinion and based on the documents provided, could have been considered catastrophic," wrote the auditors.
The auditors found instances where some employees had their conditions termed catastrophic when others with similar problems did not.
The law requires that the employee must be suffering from a catastrophic health condition or injury in order to quality for the program.
The auditors found that the Finance Department based its decisions on information provided by the employees' physicians. The physicians did not determine whether the condition was catastrophic.
The audit recommended that the Finance Department implement the proposed rules and regulations and consult "a professional body of licensed physicians" to define catastrophic health conditions and/or to develop a list of illnesses that should be considered catastrophic.
Additionally, the Finance Department should develop a list of Frequently Asked Questions with answers so employees can better understand the program.
In regards to paperwork, the auditors found that the Finance Department did not safeguard access to confidential medical information from unauthorized staff members. This violates the federal Healthcare Information Privacy and Portability Act.
The audit found that while one employee was assigned responsibility for the Donated Leave Program files, those files were stored in boxes that also contained files relating to work by other employees.
In a letter to Gov. Charles Turnbull dated Sept. 9, Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt wrote that his office sent a draft of the audit to the finance commissioner on March 10, but she did not respond. The territory's finance commissioner is Bernice Turnbull.
Van Beverhoudt wrote that since there was no response, his office was issuing the audit without it.
According to the audit, eligible leave donors must have 20 days of accrued sick leave and at least a dozen days of annual leave left in their accounts after donating time to colleagues. Recipients can receive a maximum of 260 days.
While receiving donated leave, the employee continues to accrue personal sick and annual leave days, but that time is frozen until the employee returns to work. When the employee comes back to work, the donated leave time is returned to the donors. If the employee retires, unused donated leave is not credited to supplemental retirement benefits.
The auditors found no evidence that the Donated Annual Leave Program had been audited within the past five years by any other firm or agency.

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