A Perth, Australia provider called Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital was to utilize more than a half a million dollars for its cancer research unit only to have the funds be claimed in overtime and annual leave payments by former manager  even though records evidence she was not entitled to the funds an Australian corruption watchdog has uncovered.

Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital

Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital (Charlies) was named after the governor of Western Australia (1951-63) and is part of the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre. A diverse range of clinical specialties, it houses the only comprehensive cancer treatment center in the state and is the lead hospital in the region for neurosurgery and liver transplants. The provider handles over 76,000 admissions a month—with 600 beds and 420,000 patient interactions per year. With over 5,500 employees it was only the second hospital in Australia to be awarded Magnet Recognition by the American Nurses Credentialing.

A Clinical Research Manager Takes Industry Sponsor Funds for Herself

The Western Australia Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) was called in to investigate the allegations and indeed found serious misconduct of a clinical trials manager named Judith Innes-Rowe. A 23 year veteran with the hospital, she apparently had illegally taken funding that was awarded by biopharmaceutical companies and clinical research organizations to be used for cancer clinical trials. Previous money, rather than being used to support clinical trials was used for Ms. Innes-Rowe’s overtime.

How Could this Happen?

Apparently there were systematic weaknesses in a 30-year old payroll system at the WH Health Department and a shocking “lack of appropriate managerial vigilance” enabled the culprit to bypass normal authorizations, and essentially steal the clinical trials funds. A report noted that WA Health faced an ongoing risk with this system with a need for modernization to help prevent fraudulent claims. The report revealed that Ms. Innes-Rowe claimed $508,413.35 in overtime between July 2012 and November 2017. Ms. Innes-Rowe ultimately entered the signature of consultant oncologist Professor Michael Millward to who she reported the overtime claim forms. As it turns out Professor Millward didn’t regularly review these requests and hence “The claims were effectively approved by his inaction” according to the report.

The Re-Hire

Despite two internal NMHS reports recommending disciplinary action against Ms. Innes-Rowe, she was rehired through a recruitment agency in January 2019. Commissioner John McKenzie stated “How that happens, I have no idea.” ABC News reports NMHS reported she was let go immediately after being re-hired, because she had effectively retired when she had left a month prior.

Action Items

The hospital is considering a central registry and is presently putting together a business case for WA Health’s 52,000 payroll employee payroll and rostering system. It has recognized its systems are old and processes need to be revamped.

No Excuse

There are plenty of hospitals that have run on older systems that don’t have this kind of problem. This amounts to gross negligence on the amount of leadership for not catching this. And considering that it is a regional cancer center—conducting clinical trials—it is a clinical investigational site subject to FDA-level standards for quality and accountability for patient safety. The concern of course is that when this kind of outrageous activity actually goes on for some time without being identified, what other problems could be occurring undetected? Perhaps none, but we wouldn’t bet on that. Charlies falls under Site Watch Challenged: there is a material data point out there that sponsors need to factor into their decision when working with this provider/clinical investigative site. As due diligence is undertaken, industry sponsors ensure that systems and processes are in place for high quality outcomes. One key area to probe—are they hiring the right individuals for the specific job description?

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