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Cook County Doc Gets Big Payout for No Work

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Doctor, hospital system insist incident was a "clerical error" and have launched an investigation.

A former Stroger Hospital doctor was given checks amounting to six figures with no work to show for it.

The revelation has pushed Cook County's Independent Inspector General to look into whether the issuances were accidental or intentional; a huge, one-time oversight or standard practice, an NBC Chicago / Better Government Association investigation has found.

Doctors at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, who treat some of the most needy patients, know three facts all too well: there's an overwhelming workload, below-market paychecks and job burnout.

"All I wanted was to get out," said orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Kapotas, who spent 12 years at the hospital. "I was originally going to resign, but they said, 'Take a leave of absence.'"

By all appearances, it would have been a lucrative leave.

Between April and August of this year, the BGA and NBC Chicago have learned Dr. Kapotas was being paid tens of thousands of dollars by the hospital -- and doing no work.

Payroll records show Kapotas was paid more than $100,000 at a rate of $216 per hour, or $1,700 per day. Curiously, his hourly rate was increased from $150 an hour, or $1,200 day, just one day before he began his leave. A pay code indicates he was compensated for unused sick days.

But under hospital policy, no employee is allowed to be paid for either unused sick time or a personal leave of absence.

"We were able to find that there was a clerical error made and that there was, in fact, a former employee incorrectly paid on a leave of absence," said Marisa Kollias, a spokeswoman for the hospital system.

Kollias couldn't explain how or why the error happened.

Kapotas is now working again. He's in private practice with Central Indiana Orthopedics, where he declined an on-camera interview. He answered questions about his Stroger paychecks via telephone only.

"I don't go looking at my checking account," he said. "I do direct deposit. I don't have a boat. I don't have three wives. There's no intent to defraud the county."

In the words of the hospital spokeswoman, it was all a "big clerical error."

Still, it was only after an inquiry into the story that hospital administrators launched an investigation into it.

Kapotas has since paid back the money that wasn't rightfully his. A Tuesday delivery at the suburban home of Kapotas' department chairman at Stroger, Dr. Richard Keen, included a formal letter of resignation and a check.

Kollias confirmed that Kapotas "paid back everything" and insisted the incident was isolated.

Cook County Inspector General Pat Blanchard is in the process of determining if that's true and how the mistake originally happened.

Kapotas and others have already been interviewed.

The hospital system's new CEO, Dr. Ram Raju, has ordered an internal review, saying "we must eliminate waste and abuse."

The Better Government Association promotes reform through investigative journalism, civic engagement and advocacy. We're a watchdog, shining a light on government and holding public officials accountable.

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