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Nassau civil service commission sues NuHealth over hiring

Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Nassau Civil Service

Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Nassau Civil Service Employees Association, is seen here on Feb. 27, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau County Civil Service Commission has sued the public benefit corporation that runs Nassau University Medical Center, alleging it illegally hired dozens of employees outside of rules meant to prevent political influence.

The commission filed its lawsuit last week in state Supreme Court in Mineola against the Nassau Health Care Corp., known as NuHealth; its president and chief executive, Victor Politi; and the corporation’s nonprofit foundation.

Since October 2014, employees holding roughly three dozen titles similar to those under Civil Service — including nurses, social workers, office managers and the director of budget — have been hired “without Civil Service classification, examination and appointment,” the lawsuit alleges.

The workers, co-employed by NuHealth and the foundation, are paid a total of $3.6 million in annual salaries, according to the lawsuit. The foundation, a different entity than the hospital’s fundraising arm, has a professional employment agreement with NuHealth.

The employees’ hiring came despite the corporation and foundation being “bound by Civil Service Law to justify, classify, recruit and approve employment” for such titles, wrote Earl Redding, the commission’s Albany-based attorney.

The commission, Redding wrote, “is entitled to an order restraining defendants’ illegal payment of salary or compensation to these individuals.” The suit also asks for recovery of the employees’ salaries.

NuHealth spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it was the hospital’s policy to not speak publicly about pending litigation.

Karl Kampe, the Nassau Civil Service Commission executive director, referred comment to Redding, who also declined to comment.

Civil Service laws dictate the process for posting and filling most taxpayer-funded positions in local government, including those protected by unions. They are largely meant to prevent politicians from giving favor to less-qualified candidates.

The lawsuit does not name the NuHealth employees holding the listed titles, so Newsday could not immediately determine how many of them have connections to the Nassau County Republican Party. The 15-member NuHealth board is appointed by the Republican county executive, the county legislature, which is controlled by the GOP, and the governor (on the recommendation of county officials.)

Through those appointments, Nassau Republicans control the majority of the board, as well as a number of patronage positions at the corporation that are not subject to the lawsuit.

County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, appointed Politi to lead NuHealth in January 2014. Politi, a physician, had previously been Mangano’s public safety deputy and acting police commissioner.

Last week, NuHealth’s board voted to extend Politi’s contract through 2019, at an annual salary of $368,387.

Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Nassau Civil Service Employees Association, which represents many hospital employees, said Tuesday that his union has been unable to get access to a list of employees that the hospital has hired outside of Civil Service rules.

But he said there could be several reasons NuHealth would circumvent the Civil Service to bring people on, including “pure politics” or as a way of providing favors to donors to the hospital’s foundation. He said that the allegations in the lawsuit are made more frustrating by the union being unable to get approval for more NUMC security and housekeeping staff.

“It’s an affront to everybody: the taxpayers, the county, the Civil Service system and, especially, this union,” Laricchiuta said in an interview.

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