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UNLV attorney says dental professor paid $460K he didn’t deserve

Updated April 26, 2019 - 11:35 am

A UNLV dentist was overpaid nearly half a million dollars between 2009 and 2017 and should have been required to reimburse the university, according to a memo obtained by the Review-Journal.

Dr. George McAlpine, an associate professor who has a practice seeing patients at UNLV School of Dental Medicine, had an unusual profit sharing agreement in his employment contract that paid him up to $150,000 a year if his dental school practice turned a profit, the memo from a school attorney shows. He received $60,000 a year of that incentive even though there was no profit generated by the practice, the memo said.

McAlpine said the matter has been “cleared up” and he didn’t have to pay back the money. He did not produce any documentation justifying the incentive pay.

“It was that somebody was out to get me with this sort of thing,” he said. “It was erroneous and everything is settled.”

But university staff issued a statement saying they are still dealing with the issue.

“In relation to your question about the confidential legal memorandum you received, UNLV has been actively working toward resolution,” wrote spokeswoman Cindy Brown in response to Review-Journal requests for an interview. “We cannot comment on any specifics as it is a confidential personnel matter.”

Brown did not comment when asked if any money was paid back.

The memo, by Assistant General Counsel Debra Pieruschka, was issued more than two years ago, saying the pay was not appropriate.

“Under the terms of the agreement, Dr. McAlpine was not and is not entitled to any incentive payments; and instead, he should have been required to pay back the ‘unearned’ advance incentive pay of $60,000 a year,” Pieruschka wrote March 30, 2017. “Now, more than $460,000 in incentive over payments have been paid to Dr. McAlpine.”

‘Not permitted’

The memo points out that performance bonuses and commissions are generally not permitted under the Board of Regents bylaws, but “the President of the institution may request, in limited cases and if approved by the Chancellor, that a professional staff member’s employment contract include a bonus or commission.” None of the people who signed McAlpine’s contract returned calls seeking comment.

McAlpine’s 2009 contract had a provision allowing him to receive up to $150,000 a year, depending on how well his practice at the school performed.

“As such, any incentive payments under this agreement to any employee when there is no ‘net profit’ would violate the express terms of the Agreement and (be) improper,” Pieruschka’s memo said.

McAlpine said his practice produced a profit but did not say how much.

“Profit was up and down,” he said.

The memo contends there were no profits.

“Based on (dental school) financial records since 2009 to present, the (General Practice Residency) Program has not generated any net profit as defined by the Agreement,” Pieruschka wrote.

UNLV records show a substantial drop in McAlpine’s compensation after the memo was issued.

Between 2013 and 2016, McAlpine was paid $132,747 a year in “other pay” on top of his $200,000-plus salary. The year the memo was written, his “other pay” dropped by $60,822 and he received only $71,925 on top of his salary, according to Brown’s email. Last year, McAlpine received $80,927 in other pay.

UNLV did not break out what was included in “other pay” other than saying it was contract work, commission, sick and vacation time and other items.

‘Possible repayment’

Pieruschka, the school attorney, wrote in her memo to Dental School Chief of Staff Sue Niehoff, Dean Karen West and General Counsel Elda Sidhu that the money improperly paid to McAlpine should be repaid.

“The Agreement expressly mandates that ‘if the program is in a deficit at the end of the fiscal year … the incentive salary that has been advanced and unearned will be repaid by Dr. McAlpine via … payroll deductions,” the memo says.

The memo recommends that the dental school notify McAlpine that he is not entitled to the payments, evaluate whether to modify the agreement and determine if any “possible repayment” or course of action needs to happen.

McAlpine said his superiors were fine with him keeping the payments.

“It was part of my contract and the Dean was aware of it — again with no issues,” he said. “Someone’s trying to stir the pot.”

McAlpine was the only person listed on the memo who would comment.

Niehoff declined comment, and West, Pieruschka, and Sidhu did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

Practice problems

The UNLV dental school practices have been the focus of several problems recently.

In March 2018, the school had to notify nearly 200 patients that abutments — single-use temporary dental caps — were reused by Dr. Phillip Devore.

Devore resigned in December 2017 and went into private practice.

West was so concerned about faculty dental practices that she contracted with a consultant to review business processes in the area, according to a document obtained by the Review-Journal under state open records.

Consultant Catherine DeFrancesco found inadequate fiscal accountability, the need to improve billing practices and a lack of documentation of charity care and writeoffs, among other problems. DeFrancesco did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

West resigned as dean in October but is staying on until the end of June.

She was hired as the next president of the American Dental Education Association starting July 1.

Last year, West made $397,951 in salary and benefits, according to Transparent Nevada, but she will likely double her salary in her next job.

West’s predecessor at the dental association made about $750,000 for 36 hours a week of work, according to the organization’s 2016-2017 non-profit tax return.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter.

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