Health secretary in hot water over $500 bonusesPIERRE — State Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth’s decision to give $500 bonuses to 155 employees for their work in combating the H1N1 flu virus has her under scrutiny from the Legislature’s auditors.
By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — State Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth’s decision to give $500 bonuses to 155 employees for their work in combating the H1N1 flu virus has her under scrutiny from the Legislature’s auditors.
Members of the Legislature’s government operations and audit committee took turns Thursday questioning Hollingsworth. The matter has been reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a decision how to proceed.
Hollingsworth said the bonuses were awarded based on specific criteria and were the only ones she has given in 16 years as the department’s head.
The bonuses were paid with some of the money remaining from a $6.5 million federal grant made to South Dakota by HHS for reacting and responding to the H1N1 pandemic.
Hollingsworth said HHS guidance allows bonuses. She said about 300 other employees in the state Department of Health didn’t get the bonuses, including some workers who came close but fell short of the qualifying criteria.
Legislators said the bonuses came while state government employees were under a general pay freeze which remains in place.
“It’s kind of a rub,” Sen. Jeff Haverly, R-Rapid City, said.
Hollingsworth said many people in her department put in extraordinary efforts from April 2009 through February 2010 in developing and delivering a statewide immunization program to battle H1N1.
She said some people didn’t take vacations and lab tests totaled some 10,000 when they run about 1,000 in a normal flu season. South Dakota achieved the highest H1N1 immunization rate among adults in the nation.
“It was our response to an unprecedented response by our department,” Hollingsworth said about the bonus plan.
Hollingworth said the bonuses were “my idea” but they had the approval of state Personnel Commissioner Sandra Zinter.
Hollingsworth said Zinter suggested the $500 amount based on other bonuses that have been given in state government.
Two senior staff members for the Department of Legislative Audit told the committee they weren’t aware of any past bonuses made from federal grants.
The bonuses came to light as part of the standard annual review of state finances by Legislative Audit.
Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, raised the question of whether the Bureau of Personnel needs to be called before the committee in the future to discuss bonus policy and how it’s applied to state departments and agencies.
“I think that becomes a problem,” Hunhoff said. “Variances get us into problems.”