Employees at a troubled state mental hospital in Goldsboro used money from drug companies and foreign medical schools to visit places such as Hawaii and Hungary.
In less than four years, administrators at Cherry Hospital approved more than $139,851 in spending for overnight travel to more than 100 medical conferences and professional events.
Using both state revenue and money from a nonprofit foundation created to benefit the hospital's patients, employees have spent an additional $215,650 since 2005 on fundraisers, catered meals for hospital staff, and an annual retreat at a Wrightsville Beach resort.
The director of Cherry Hospital, Jack St. Clair, said the spending through the hospital's Continuing Medical Education program is essential to attract and retain qualified professionals.
“We're in a highly competitive, highly demanding market,” St. Clair said.
Federal officials withdrew Medicare and Medicaid funding from Cherry Hospital last month after the death of a patient who was left sitting in a chair for 22 hours – the latest in a string of alleged patient neglect and abuse at the hospital.
The money for the employees' excursions came from two checking accounts controlled by managers who are also the hospital's most frequent travelers: Dr. Kimberly Johnson, the clinical director; and Judy Howell, who coordinates Cherry's medical education program.
Before Johnson, Howell and two others made a $6,920 trip to Orlando earlier this year, they signed out $500 cash advances to themselves.
Other trips included one for a physician assistant who spent three days at Walt Disney World's Polynesian Resort for a conference titled “Dermatology for the Non-Dermatologist.”
Two Cherry psychiatrists went to Budapest, Hungary, while a food service director and dietitian went to Honolulu.