Funding scandal: hospital chief ‘appalled’ by spending sprees

The former chief executive of a children’s hospital where the administrator handed his $280,000-a-year pension to his wife missed out on an opportunity to update a public document that included details of their spending habits, a court has heard.

Mark Sammartino was seeking up to $1m from James Lynch, the former chief executive of Ormeau Park Children’s hospital, for failing to keep up his end of the power-sharing agreement, which he was awarded when Lynch was thrown out of the position over an expenses scandal in 2012.

In his evidence in the former executive’s defamation trial, Kelly Fancourt, who spent five years as Sammartino’s chief administrative officer, said there were several instances when Sammartino did not see fit to update public spending documents.

Instead, it would be done by his office’s financial controller.

Sammartino resigned under pressure in December 2014, just days after former employees drew attention to the extravagant expense claims that Lynch made for airfares, taxis, and an online shopping spree, with little regard for the cost to Ormeau Park Children’s hospital.

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While the executives were forging the spending documentation in order to cover up their expenses, Sammartino said he was impressed by Lynch’s commitment to the hospital – despite the scandal that landed him in hot water.

“I was pretty impressed with how nonchalant he was about it,” Sammartino said. “He was like: ‘I don’t know why they took such an interest in it.’ I’m like: ‘Oh, that’s why they should. It’s unethical and really, really bad’.”

The administrators began using a spreadsheet system to track the spending in 2014, Fancourt said.

Just after the spending scandal broke, Fancourt said he found out about the spreadsheet system in July 2014, but Sammartino said he did not want it changed as a reaction to the scandal.

Instead, Sammartino said it remained the way the expenses could be captured.

Sammartino’s case is not centred on the discovery of the original records – the court has been told of their existence – but on their presentation as part of a public document, in contravention of Sammartino’s agreement with Lynch, which stipulated they would be provided for public scrutiny.

Sammartino’s claim that any defamatory conduct by Lynch was spurred on by payola, through cash payments from an unidentified party, is denied by Lynch.

He says Sammartino refused to sign off on a development of an opulent children’s ward when the hospital was in financial trouble, and he was forced to resign.

He claims these allegations are false, and that Sammartino made it clear he was going to refuse any such funding.

“That’s nonsense,” Lynch told the court. “I’m a contractor. I provide services. I’m contractually obliged to meet those obligations and contractually compelled to do what I say and do what I promise. And I did not, which was as simple as that.”

Lynch says Sammartino’s original agreement spelled out a series of conditions to an extended term of employment. When the agreement expired in July 2013, it was fulfilled.

• This article was amended on 29 December 2018. It initially said Mark Sammartino made a failure to pay attention to the expense claims a claim. This has been corrected to say Sammartino did not make this claim.

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