BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — After a report by the outgoing-Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw Tuesday regarding Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein’s more than $250,000 in pandemic overtime, the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team only found one other health commissioner or health director in the state who received overtime during the pandemic.
Nurse practitioner Kimberly Kaplan, Greene County Director of Public Health, made $3,100 in pandemic overtime in 2020.
According to the county comptroller, Burstein’s base salary in 2020 was $207,292 and in 2021 it was $209,044. Her overtime and comp payment over the two-year period paid $284,857. That brings the total payment over two years to $701,193. The comptroller says since her tenure as Erie County Health Commissioner began in 2012, the total amount of overtime and comp time she has received in total during that time is $336,148.
The Poloncarz administration says the county is using federal CARES Act funding to cover overtime costs in the county tied to the pandemic.
We took the question to other counties in New York State to see how they have operated during the pandemic when it comes to pay for health directors or commissioners.
In Onondaga County, Comptroller Marty Masterpole said there was overtime paid, but none with regards to the health commissioner.
“Certainly overtime we had some relative to the pandemic, none with regards to our health commissioner. Our health commissioner is Dr. Indu Gupta and I will say she worked a crazy amount of hours did a good job during the pandemic but she is salaried," said Masterpole.
Onondaga County, home to Syracuse, has a population of more than 500,000.
Masterpole said Gupta did not receive any overtime during the pandemic—because she is a salaried employee. Her annual salary is $258,866.
“Her hours are 35 hours per week and I’m sure Dr. Gupta worked more than 35 hours many weeks, between the pandemic and shut downs, press conferences and relaying out information she seemed like she was everywhere all the time but that comes with the territory,” Masterpole said. “It’s the way our contract is written.”
Closer to home in Niagara County, Public Health Director Dan Stapleton also did not receive any overtime. According to SeeThroughNY, he earned a salary of $122,324 in 2020.
The 7 Eyewitness News I-Team checked with Monroe County, home to Rochester, which has a population similar in size to Erie. A spokesperson told us Monroe County Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza is also a salaried employee and is therefore not eligible for overtime or additional pay.
We also checked with Albany County, which is home to another large population center. A spokesperson said, “In Albany County no commissioner, director or deputy commissioner is permitted to collect overtime pay or receive comp time.”
We asked Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz Tuesday why Burstein is one of the only county health leaders in the state to receive overtime pay.
He did not answer the question, instead attacking the media for reporting on the county comptroller’s report, and attacking the outgoing comptroller for issuing it in the first place.
“This is not appropriate, it is unfair, hell it’s probably antisemitic knowing him, because he’s not criticizing anyone else he’s criticizing our Jewish Health Commissioner. It’s over with—and I hope the rest of the media understands that whatever bull (expletive) he’s going to push over the next few days—remember he’s being paid by Big Dog Strategies to be a paid political operative and he might be paid right now, and the people of Erie County will never know it.”