Friday, September 10, 2010

A Golden Parachute for Captain Outrageous

A year ago, I posted about leadership and governance problems at Northeast Health Systems, a small hospital system located in neighboring Massachusetts.  The colorful story included leaders who solicited money from the community but concealed what they were doing from the same community, an adolescent pregnancy pact after the hospital system refused to provide confidential birth control information at the high school clinic it ran, a hospital vice-president accused of art theft, various cuts, some concealed, of medical services, accusations of conflicts of interest affecting the board of trustees, and no-confidence votes by nurses and physicians. Finally, Stephen Laverty, the CEO held responsible for much of the mess, resigned and things quieted down a bit.  However, he left a system in deficit, leading to further lay-offs, (e.g., see this story in the Boston Globe).  And the vice-president accused of art theft was also "arraigned on bribery and larceny charges" (also per the Boston Globe.)

Yet, Mr Laverty collected a tidy sum just to leave, as the Salem News just reported:
Former Northeast Health System President and CEO Stephen Laverty collected more than $1 million from the nonprofit hospital chain after he resigned under fire in the fall of 2008, newly released financial records show.

The earnings, $1.08 million in total, include a settlement package of more than a year's salary plus pay for the one month the controversial Laverty was at the helm of Northeast, which owns Beverly Hospital, as well as Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital.

The documents provide the first details of how much Northeast, now laying off workers and cutting costs, was willing to pay to part ways with its CEO who had just endured no-confidence votes from nurses and doctors, plus the arrest of one of his top managers.

Neither the hospital system nor its former CEO was exactly forthcoming about the rationale for this payment:
As part of Laverty's resignation, both sides agreed not to discuss the settlement or any of the details that led them to part ways.

'I have no understanding of what you are talking about,' Laverty said yesterday afternoon from his home in Concord, when asked about his settlement package. He then hung up the phone.

A spokeswoman for Northeast Health System said she could not comment on Laverty or the terms of any agreements between the company and past employees.

So even the hired manager of a small community hospital system is entitled to a million dollar plus golden parachute when resigning in disgrace. This is another great example of the current perversity of the incentives given to hired health care managers. Even small community hospitals, the backbone of real community health care throughout the country, seem to feel obligated to make millionaires out of their managers, no matter how bad their performance.

As we said before, the problem is not just the money wasted paying for bad performance. These perverse incentives are likely to encourage worse performance.  They send the message to even the worst executives that they are wonderful people, they can do no wrong, and should stand for no criticism, all further diverting them from what they really are supposed to be doing: upholding the mission.

As an editorial in the Gloucester Times noted, although the nexus is perverse incentives given to paid managers, it is not only the paid managers who are to blame for this situation.
The other party to his contract was the Northeast Board of Trustees.
Those who want to serve as trustees of Northeast need to get the notion out of their heads that their board seats are not just resume builders — with high-profile community roles and a few corporate dinners thrown in. These are positions of community leadership and responsibility that comes with a measure of accountability.

New Northeast CEO Ken Hanover has indeed seemingly ushered in a new era of relative openness in dealing with the community. But the same cannot be said for the Board of Trustees.

If Laverty's shameful buyout deal and these types of contracts are examples of their 'leadership' and responsibility, each and every one of them should step down now.

As we have said many times before, true health care reform would encourage leaders of health care who understand health care and care about its mission, rather than those who just see a quick road to riches or social respectability.


Anonymous said...

What I find disturbing is that we find these salary levels in small community hospitals. Not only that, but we find a whole staff paid at above average rates in an effort to justify and support these levels.

The president of H-P recently was removed and landed at Oracle with a salary of less than $1M. So here we have large multi-national companies paying people in leadership roles less than the CEO of the community hospital.

I have to believe a leadership position at a multi-national should garner a larger pay package than a local hospital, apparently I am wrong.

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

Thievery. Criminal charges should be filed by the Attorney General.

Anonymous said...

As a modern Baron, a suzerain, he deserves to be treated differently. He is of the Ordo Nobilis. We common folk certainly deserve worse. To each his station after all.