A New York Times article written earlier this year described an institution "threatened with extinction" because it stuck to its mission of "compassionate care" in a health care environment that values "fancy equipment and celebrity doctors." Thus, "officials blamed a high rate of poor and uninsured patients as well as cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and the hospital's inability to negotiate favorable contracts with health insurance companies...."
Painting Another Picture
However, a story this week in the grittier New York Post painted a different picture:
St. Vincent's Hospital was looted by execs and consultants in the two years before it closed, then grossly exaggerated its debt, according to blockbuster papers set to be filed tomorrow in Manhattan Supreme Court.
The filing, a petition that seeks to force the state Health Department to turn over documents on the closing, says the defunct medical center blew through millions in 'highly questionable' expenses, including $278,000 for a golf outing, while paying its top 10 executives a combined $10 million a year.
It also shelled out $17 million for 'management consultants,' $3.8 million on 'professional fund-raising' and a staggering $104 million on unspecified costs it listed simply as 'other' on its federal tax returns, the petition says.
But even with all that money going out, St. Vincent's wasn't nearly as cash strapped as it claimed, say the court papers, prepared by a law firm working for doctors and nurses formerly employed there and the hospital's West Village neighbors.
Its crushing debt of about $1 billion, which the hospital blamed for having to close its doors in April, was bloated by hundreds of millions of dollars in loans dumped on St. Vincent's from other medical entities run by the Archdiocese of New York, starting in 2001, after the other institutions merged with the hospital, the papers say.
'The debt of the hospital was specifically exaggerated by numerous factors, including the transfer of debt from other Catholic medical centers and mismanagement by the board of directors,' the documents say. 'These transfers . . . remain undisclosed to the public.'
These accusations parallel themes that appeared towards the end of the February, 2010, NY Times piece. First, regarding the transfer of debt:
To remain competitive, in 2000 St. Vincent’s merged with several other Catholic hospitals to form St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers.
Along with the flagship hospital in the Village, it ran seven other hospitals: Bayley Seton and St. Vincent’s on Staten Island; Mary Immaculate, St. John’s and St. Joseph’s in Queens; St. Mary’s in Brooklyn; and St. Vincent’s Westchester, in Harrison, N.Y. It was also affiliated with St. Vincent’s Midtown, formerly St. Clare’s, in Midtown Manhattan.
The merger was conceived as a way to streamline management and give the hospitals pricing leverage, but it was troubled from the beginning. After closings and sales, the network was left with just one New York City hospital, the flagship; a psychiatric and substance abuse treatment hospital in Westchester; and several nursing homes and other outpatient facilities. Some of St. Vincent’s debt was inherited from the closed hospitals.
Second, regarding mismanagement:
In 2004, St. Vincent’s turned over management to Speltz & Weis, the first in a series of turnaround consultants. It paid the firms millions of dollars a year to run the hospital and hired their officials as hospital executives. The system filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early July 2005, when it appeared, according to court papers filed by hospital creditors, that it would be unable to make its payroll.
In a lawsuit filed in 2007, some of the hospital’s creditors painted a picture of a hospital system trapped between unscrupulous consultants and a passive or gullible board. The lawsuit accused David E. Speltz and Timothy C. Weis, the hospital system’s former chief executive and chief financial officer, of delaying the bankruptcy organization while they and their consulting firm collected millions of dollars in fees.
The lawsuit accused them of hiring high-priced contractors and padding their fees, instead of using hospital employees to do work. And it says they leveraged their positions with the hospital to negotiate the sale of their consulting company to Huron Consulting Group, in Chicago, also a defendant in the case.
The outcome of that earlier lawsuit was unclear. It does suggest that St. Vincent's may have been chronically bled by greedy managers and consultants.
Contrasting Financial Health and Executive Compensation
Of course, as one of our unofficial legal consultants noted, anyone can file a lawsuit. However, perusal of the latest 990 form filed with the Internal Revenue Service by St Vincent Catholic Medical Centers for calendar year 2008 did reveal a disquieting contrast.
That form stated that the the hospital lost over $65 million in 2008, and over $34 million in 2007. However, in 2008, here were the compensation of its highest paid managers
- Brian Fitzsimmons, Executive Director, $2,135,401
- Bernadette Kingman-Bez, Senvior Vice President, CCO (?), $1,520,841
- Paul Rosenfeld, Executive Director, CC, $1,196,458
- Henry Amoroso, CEO, $1,081,592
In addition, seven current and former executives at the Senior Vice President of Vice President level earned over $500,000 that year, and another 13 earned over $250,000.
So clearly, while the hospital was hemorrhaging money, and a little more than a year away from bankruptcy, this not-for-profit hospital whose mission emphasized serving the poor served a large corps of executives very large amounts of money. So we see again the pattern of top managers rewarding themselves disproportionately (here, grossly so) given the mission and financial status of their organizations. The picture is of pay entirely independent of performance, and leaders who are ultimately only in it for the money.
How many more examples like this do we need until there is resolve that real health care reform will make top health care leaders accountable for their performance, and provide them incentives that are fair and rational, rather than perverse?
Of course, if we regard the fall of institutions whose mission was to do good as inevitable in our Darwinian world, an explanation that earlier coverage of this story suggested, all we can do is to throw our hands up. However, the inevitability argument is often made by those who are benefiting from the current way of doing things. A more skeptical view of this case, and related health policy issues, may suggest a different approach.