How far and wide? Consider this story in the (Harford County, Maryland) Aegis:
Harford County’s Upper Chesapeake Health lost $70 million because of bad bets in the derivatives markets two years ago, but still paid its chief executive more than $900,000 in annual salary and bonuses.
According to figures from their latest tax returns and from the state agency that regulates hospital rates, Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, hospitals owned and operated by nonprofit Upper Chesapeake Health Inc., posted huge losses in their fiscal year ending December 2008.
The losses were the result of an increase in non-operating expenses, according to the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission.
The hospitals had combined revenue of $254 million for the year, but posted a combined net loss of $61 million.
The two hospitals also paid out some of the highest salaries in Harford County, led by their CEO, Lyle Sheldon, who made more than $900,000 in 2009, a figure which was first reported by The Baltimore Sun on Aug. 29.
Including Sheldon, the hospitals’ top administrators and top medical staff, who are hospital employees, received a combined $5 million in salary, bonuses and other compensation in 2009.
So how did the hospital's management explain the huge loss?
'That was the year the stock market fell, in fiscal year 2008,' Dean Kaster, Upper Chesapeake’s senior vice president of corporate strategy and business development, said Tuesday in explaining the 2008 loss.
'We saw a significant change in terms of how some of the instruments we used in managing our debt service were valued and during that time period what these dollar changes reflected was an accounting loss directly related to the decline in the overall market in 2008,' he said.
Kaster said Upper Chesapeake, like many hospitals, has investment instruments it uses, called derivatives and hedges, to manage its long-term debt. He said the value of those instruments changed in fiscal year 2008.
In simpler terms, like many corporate, institutional and individual investors, Upper Chesapeake got burned by taking risks that backfired when the economy tanked.
Since those markets have come back, Kaster said, Upper Chesapeake has recovered two-thirds, or about $46.7 million, of the $70 million it lost from investments.
Of course, 2008 was the year of the great recession/ global financial collapse, or whatever we may end up calling it, happened. The value of many investments, and many peoples' homes, imploded. The best current explanation of the collapse had to do with the bets financial institutions made on risky derivatives which their managers often did not understand. In hindsight, these bets seem somewhere between unnecessarily risky and stupid.
Many smaller businesses and organizations were fortunate to be financially conservative enough not to have bet on derivatives. But little Upper Chesapeake Health apparently bet a large chunk of its money on them, and lost badly. Although VP Kaster belabored the obvious in noting that 2008 was the year of the collapse, he did not explain what the stewards of a not-for-profit health care institution were doing when they were betting on risky derivatives.
One thing they were doing was making a lot of money themselves.
At UCH, the highest compensated employee is President and CEO Lyle Sheldon.
Sheldon’s annual compensation for the hospital’s fiscal year 2009, the most recent information available, was $918,957, according to the Form 990 submitted to the IRS.
Sheldon’s base salary for the year was $535,000 and his bonus and incentive compensation was $224,007.
Sheldon’s compensation is nearly $500,000 more than the next highest paid employee for UCH.
Other executives did well too:
Second to Sheldon, the next highest paid employee in UCH’s upper management is Joseph Hoffman III, the senior vice president and CFO, who was paid $420,355 in the hospital’s fiscal year 2009. His base salary was $272,210 and his bonus and incentive compensation was $91,439.
Senior Vice President and COO Kenneth Kozel was paid $352,538, according to Upper Chesapeake’s Form 990. Kozel received additional nontaxable benefits and deferred compensation on Harford Memorial’s form, bringing his total compensation to $396,039.
Kaster, the senior VP for strategy and business development, was paid $281,142, according to Upper Chesapeake’s form. He also has additional nontaxable benefits and deferred compensation on Harford Memorial’s form, bringing his total to $330,598.
Vice President of Human Resources Toni Shivery’s Upper Chesapeake compensation was $204,531, with an additional $33,895 from Harford Memorial, bringing the total to $238,426.
Note that the CFO of this small hospital system, the person who ought to be most directly responsible for the decision to "invest" in derivatives, made over $420,000, and the vice president for strategy and business development, responsible for the simplistic discussion of derivatives above, made over $330,000.
Providing such perverse incentives seems to contradict the hospital system's high-minded statements of values, which includes:
Responsibility: We take responsibility for our actions and hold ourselves accountable for the results and outcomes.
A CEO who truly accepted responsibility for a $61 million loss from risky bets on opaque derivatives would not accept total compensation of over $900,000. A CFO who truly accepted responsibility for these bets would not accept over $400,000.
So in summary, we see that now CEOs of even the smallest community hospital systems seem entitled to make nearly a million dollars a year. We see that even CEOs whose institutions lose millions due to risky investments still receive such compensation. We see that the executives who seem directly responsible for making such money losing investments still earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This is an extreme illustration of how perverse incentives permeate health care, how CEOs command pay beyond the dreams of ordinary people, even when their leadership is financially calamitous, and how little health care leaders support their organizations' idealistic values.
Are leaders who are not held accountable for easily measured financial performance likely to be good stewards of clinical performance, which is much harder to measure?
If we do not hold health care leaders accountable, if we do not provide them with incentives that are proportional to their actual performance, why should we expect health care organizations to do any more than satisfy their leaders' self-interest?