- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

Metro has hired job applicants who abuse crack cocaine and other illegal drugs because it has failed to properly screen new employees for drug use, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.
An internal audit found that the transit system allows drug abusers to keep reapplying until they pass pre-employment drug screening. Metro workers say many of those hired later test positive for drugs.
"[I]n their opinion a lot of people are testing positive for serious drug abuse involving cocaine and crack cocaine," the report last year by Metro's auditor general states.
The report also showed that the transit agency allows drug abusers to return to work as bus drivers or train operators with little or no follow-up on their drug use.
Four workers tested positive for drug abuse in post-accident tests from 1997 to 1999, the period covered by the audit of Metro's Medical Services Facility.
One of the four accidents resulted in injury, and three of the four resulted in damage to vehicles.
Metro documents do not provide details, such as the amount of damage or subsequent punishment, other than the dates of the incidents. Neither do they say what jobs those who failed the tests held or applied for.
"[I]t seems more and more [transit workers]," the report says, "come up positive in their first random test, during the first year of employment, for these hard drugs, which means that they were most probably users while in their probationary period and prior to employment."
Metro documents show that 78 workers tested positive for drug or alcohol abuse during random testing between 1997 and 1999, the latest years for which data are available.
Other large transit systems are more strict when it comes to drugs.
Mike Healy, spokesman for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in the San Francisco area, said employees who test positive for drug or alcohol use after an accident usually are terminated.
BART employees who are found abusing drugs and alcohol during random testing are allowed to enter treatment programs or face termination, Mr. Healy said. Unlike Metro, he added, BART will not allow job applicants who continue to fail drug tests to reapply until they pass.
"If they clean up, they can reapply. There has to be some logic to that," he said.
Last year, Maryland's Mass Transit Administration fired two operators who, within six months of each other, crashed their light rail trains into safety barriers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, injuring more than 20 people each time. Both operators had been using prescription drugs.
Metro auditors found poor management and testing programs in disarray at the Medical Services Facility, which conducts physicals and drug and alcohol testing of applicants.
In addition, a 1999 Federal Transit Administration (FTA) audit found more than 60 deficiencies with Metro's random drug testing program.
Among the problems identified in the audits are that Metro managers:
Authorized medical services without a contract.
Allowed cost overruns without authorization.
Changed the scope of doctors' work without a formal contract modification.
Assistant Metro General Manager Gail Charles said the transit agency changed drug policies this year after the audits were completed.
The system now requires physicals and drug- and alcohol-testing only of applicants for safety-sensitive positions such as operators, mechanics and supervisors, she said. Previously, all applicants were tested.
Ms. Charles also said Metro conducts follow-up random drug testing for 60 months after an employee is found to be using drugs or alcohol. An employee who continues abusing drugs or alcohol during that time can be terminated.
Ms. Charles said the changes were necessary because of a backlog for physicals and drug tests at the Medical Services Facility, which is in the YMCA Building at Ninth and G streets NW. The facility also monitors the recovery of injured workers before they return to their jobs.
Sources familiar with the facility said Ms. Charles, an assistant general manager since 1998, is among top officials who have known about the problems for more than eight years.
Over the past year, they said, Ms. Charles has hired five different managers to oversee operations at the Medical Services Facility, and it has lost two of three remaining doctors.
One doctor was fired last year because she did not have a D.C. medical license; another resigned Feb. 1 because of Metro's failure to improve the facility, workers said.
Ms. Charles said one of the five managers was a former co-worker in Los Angeles whom she recommended for the job. Auditors noted he was fired four months after taking the job for borrowing money from Metro workers, contractors and Ms. Charles, who said she gave, not loaned, the man $20.
One major problem cited by auditors was the unnamed physician who was under contract with Metro for five years without a D.C. medical license. Metro paid the doctor a total of $269,000, but the transit authority has not tried to recoup the money.
Richard Plante, former head of human resources at Metro and now director of organizational development, said the doctor's lack of a D.C. license was more of a contractual oversight than a medical problem. The doctor was licensed in Virginia, Mr. Plante said, but the contract required her to hold a D.C. license since she worked for Metro in the District.
Metro's auditors reported that physicals done by an unlicensed doctor are comparable to "practicing without a license" and Metro "could be at risk for what the doctor did" while working in the clinic.
Auditors also found that only one of the four physicians contracted by Metro before 1999 was a licensed medical review officer, and the other three had limited, 8-year-old training.
Medical review officers determine whether an employee is fit to return to work after an injury or drug abuse.
FTA auditors expressed concerns that the doctors' training was lacking.
Since Dr. Daniel Jimenez resigned Feb. 1, Metro does not have a certified medical review officer on its staff. Ms. Charles said Dr. Desmond Johnson, the remaining physician, is working toward certification.
Dr. Jimenez told Metro auditors that physicians who do not maintain certification and continue to interview employees are guilty of malpractice.
Dr. Jimenez also told auditors "there is an issue of credibility if the doctor is not MRO certified and doesn't attend official sanctioned training." In his opinion, he said, this could make the transit system liable for damages if sued.
Dr. Jimenez, who sources said was critical of the Metro medical facility before he left, did not return calls made to his Springfield office.
Metro officials are trying to resolve problems at the facility by improving the medical training for its nine employees and hiring a new manager, Ms. Charles said.
She added that she is considering having the facility's functions handled by a private company.


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