NEW ORLEANS—The chief of Emergency Medical Services in New Orleans said she spoke with top city officials in 2007 before starting a second job with a Texas company that makes a medical device used in the city's ambulances.
Dr. Jullette Saussy told The Times-Picayune she worked part-time for Vidacare for 15 months, primarily teaching emergency room physicians and paramedics how to use the EZ-IO device, a drill-like apparatus that delivers fluids and medications into long bone.
The private sector job paid $90,000 annually - on top of the $180,000 salary Saussy receives from the city of New Orleans.
Within three months of taking the Vidacare post in June 2007, Saussy also bought a house in the Dallas suburb of University Park, records show. And a letter dated the following month by Vidacare's co-founder indicated that Saussy's move would allow her to "devote 100 percent of her time to her duties as medical director."
Saussy said former Mayor Ray Nagin's legal team and his chief administrative officer signed off on her second job.
"I went to my superiors, and I said, 'If you think in any way, shape or form that there is a conflict, I won't do it,"' she said. "They said they saw no conflict of interest."
Saussy resigned from Vidacare after 15 months because of what she described as philosophical differences with her boss. She could not pinpoint how many hours she devoted to her outside gig. She said she bought the house, which she recently sold, after an August 2007 cancer diagnosis required her to get frequent treatments at the nearby Baylor Sammons Cancer Center.
Saussy said she never neglected her duties at the city's EMS department or the other city posts she holds: EMS medical director, medical director for the New Orleans Fire Department and chief medical officer for the city's Office of Emergency Preparedness.
During the time of her dual employment, Saussy said she stayed in contact by telephone and e-mail, even scheduling twice-a-day commuter flights so she could receive cancer treatments in the morning and be at her desk in New Orleans by afternoon.
"Being a well-paid city employee, part of my job is to be visible and available, and if you look back over that time, I think you won't find that I missed many meetings or other obligations," she said.
"I probably could do much of my job by my cell phone and my computer," Saussy said. "There wasn't a time that I was getting
chemotherapy that was wasn't working for the city of New Orleans or the citizens of New Orleans."
She said she never intended to work at Vidacare full-time.
Officials at a government watchdog organization said they began receiving complaints in 2007 from city employees who said Saussy had quit showing up to work and had gotten a job in the private sector.
Anthony Radosti, vice president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said he launched an investigation into Saussy's job history and recently took the results to the state legislative auditor and top aides in Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration. Landrieu became mayor in May.
Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin has implemented a policy barring employees who are not bound by civil service guidelines - those at the top of the municipal ranks - from holding "permanent outside employment," defined as recurring work for the same employer outside City Hall.