Local News

WRAL Investigates Claim Highly-Paid County Employee Not Working Full Time

Posted November 21, 2002

— As a taxpayer, what do you expect out of a full-time government employee? Wake County's payroll manager said you should expect at least a 40-hour work week for your money.

Some employees doubt whether a well-paid county worker is meeting that standard.

WRAL spent close to two months investigating the work habits of the man who oversees medical care for Wake County Jail inmates. He is paid as a full-time county employee, but some question whether the jail gets his full attention.

Like most Wake County jail employees, the seven nurses who monitor inmate care work long hours.

"We have had some nurses actually working double their time," said Dr. Obi Umesi, the jail's medical director.

Some current and past employees question whether Umesi pulls his weight.

A former employee estimates Umesi spends, on average, 10 to 12 hours a week treating patients at the jail.

"It's not right that you're going to be paid as a full-time employee and you only show up maybe 10 hours a week," said the former employee. "We can't do it, why can he?"

At more than $155,000 a year, Umesi is Wake County's second highest paid government employee, behind only the medical director for Human Services.

Umesi makes more than the Wake County sheriff and the county manager.

"That's what the public needs to know. They need to see where their tax dollars are going," the former employee said.

To track Umesi's work habits, WRAL researched his payroll and parking records. A computerized card keeps track of when he parks in the county garage.

Employees pay $25 a month to park at the garage. The records show a wide range of use by Umesi on different days. For example, three hours; 1.5 hours; 2.45 hours; 10 hours and 27 minutes. Over six months, the time averages to about 10 hours a week.

The records show Umesi never used the garage on Mondays. For 17 straight days in June, the parking card was never used, yet cross-referenced with payroll, Umesi put down only one day off from work.

Umesi said inmates have threatened him because he refused to give them unnecessary drugs. He said he often changes his routine for protection and pays to park in other downtown lots not reflected by the records.

"I think you'll be stupid enough to let them know everywhere and everyhow you move," he said.

During its investigation, WRAL called the jail on a regular basis looking for the doctor. Almost every time, Umesi was "not there" or "he had just left." In one case, a worker said, "He calls and tells us when he's coming in."

To get a better handle on the doctor's schedule, WRAL went to Umesi's neighborhood. During the month of October, WRAL spent close to 40 hours at random times on weekdays watching his home.

During that time, WRAL saw Umesi leave only twice, to walk his dog. "I cannot refute this, because what you have is probably real," he said.

When asked if he can understand that taxpayers might have questions about his work habits, Umesi responded by saying, "I can understand fully well. I can understand if they do not understand my work."

Umesi said coming to the jail is only a small part of his work.

"That would be the minimum of my job. No, just walking through the door and letting people see me."

The doctor said he sometimes checks on patients at the Wake County Detention Center Annex on Hammond Road and local emergency rooms. He said he is on-call 24 hours a day.

"Whether I'm at home, on the way, anywhere I am -- I'm always, always making decisions about this place," Umesi said.

WRAL's investigation found Umesi has separate hourly contracts to treat patients at two other state facilities -- at Central Prison and the North Carolina Correction Center For Women, both in Raleigh.

State records show, between the two prisons, the doctor moonlights close to 50 hours a week.

The private company that handles Central Prison's medical services does not release the doctor's pay, but in the past seven months, he has made more than $70,000 working at the women's prison.

"Do I work hard? Yes, I work hard. Do I work many hours? Yes, I do work many hours. But does it ban me from doing the assigned duties for the county? Absolutely not," he said.

As an exempt county employee, Umesi is not required to turn in a time sheet or punch a time clock. He said he examined more than 160 patients at the county jail in October.

Ultimately, the doctor believes he should be judged for his patient care, not the hours he spends at the jail.

"Is it worth the money? In other words, are the people getting their money's worth? I would tell them to try the alternative and see. I think I'm giving them the worth of their money." Umesi said.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, full-time county employees are paid based on a 40-hour work week.

No one questioned Umesi's expertise, only his hours.

A spokesperson for Womack Army Medical Center said Umesi has also worked there for almost 20 years and said he is one of the most competent, dependable doctors they have.

WRAL found few county jails in North Carolina employ a full-time doctor.

  • The Mecklenburg County Jail, which has about twice the number of inmates as Wake, uses a private company with a full-time physician.
  • Cumberland and Johnston counties use Department of Public Health doctors to monitor inmates on a part-time basis.
  • In Durham County, a private practice physician has a part-time contract to treat inmates.
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