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Top health official broke city rules in working six-figure nonprofit gig

Dr. Lisa Pratt during a tour of the the Minna Project on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard.

A top Department of Public Health official who made a second six-figure salary working for a financially troubled, city-contracted nonprofit did so without proper approvals from the city, The Standard has learned.  

The city’s Human Resources Department said on Wednesday that it has no record of any secondary employment approvals for Lisa Pratt, the health department’s director of jail health services, who has earned $123,000 a year as an on-call “consultant” for the drug rehab nonprofit Baker Places on top of her $428,750 city compensation.

That directly contradicted what the Department of Public Health (DPH) told The Standard on Monday when first asked about Pratt’s side job at the nonprofit, which abruptly declared insolvency this fall and asked the city for a $4 million bailout. 

City employees must annually seek approval of secondary employment by the Human Resources Department to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest, no interference with regular work schedules and that the second job doesn’t “lead to situations that would discredit the city.” 

Pratt has worked for Baker Places, which runs a major drug rehab conglomerate along with its administrative arm Positive Resource Center (PRC), since 2000 and for the city since 2016. According to the Human Resources Department, Pratt attempted to file a request for secondary employment in 2019—three years after she started working for the city—but the Department of Public Health never responded to questions about her work schedule, therefore voiding the request. 

“We do not have record of an approved request for this employee,” said Mawuli Tugbenyoh, policy director of the Human Resources Department, in a statement. 

The health department, and Pratt herself, initially defended the employment arrangement as consistent with city guidelines. According to SF’s Good Government Guide, Pratt’s secondary employment would pose a conflict of interest if she worked at all for the nonprofit on the city’s time. 

A screenshot from a Facebook Live event hosted by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office between Chesa Boudin (not pictured) and San Francisco Jail Health Director Dr. Lisa Pratt on February 10, 2021.

But the department changed course after being informed that Pratt’s request was never approved, telling The Standard that it is “investigating what happened in this case.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who was furious at learning of Pratt’s side employment, questioned whether the unauthorized gig was an isolated case. 

“If HR doesn’t say yes, then is there the bureaucratic infrastructure at DPH to say ‘I’m sorry you’re going to have to either quit your job here or quit your job there,’” Peskin said. “Clearly that didn't happen. So in what other situations is this happening?”

Pratt’s unauthorized dual employment could subject her to consequences “up to and including termination,” according to city policy. And it raised serious ethical questions in light of PRC and Baker Places’ rapidly unraveling finances.

The revelations about Pratt’s side job come just weeks after Baker Places threatened to close some of its programs unless the city forked over $4 million in emergency funding. One of those programs was Joe Healy Detox center, where Pratt served as an on-call “consultant” on weekends. 

That request for emergency funding angered members of the Board of Supervisors, who just three months earlier had approved a $1.2 million emergency grant for the rehab organization, among other efforts to keep it afloat, including a contract increase and a city-funded financial consultant. 

PRC and Baker Places—which announced a merger in 2016 but remain separately incorporated—run 215 addiction and behavioral health treatment beds and have close to $70 million in city contract awards this fiscal year. 

After the nonprofits’ bailout request on Oct. 3, the Department of Public Health opted to cut ties with the organization and said that it planned to find alternate care providers for their clients. It has not provided an update on that process since then.