Monday, November 15, 2010

About to be Bought-Out Non-Profit Hospital System Tries to Hide Executives' Golden Parachutes

A report from FloridaToday (in Brevard County) about the sale of a not-for-profit Florida hospital system to a for-profit corporation raises some interesting questions. The background is that the non-profit Wuesthoff Health System was bought by for-profit Health Management Associates (HMA):
HMA, a for-profit hospital management company in Naples, bought the not-for-profit Wuesthoff Oct. 1 for $145 million. Wuesthoff lawyer William Kopit has said it was forced to sell because the hospital system lacked the capital to compete.

The question is about the conditions of the sale:
A foundation formed to manage the proceeds of the sale and continue providing indigent health care has refused to disclose the executive packages to the state, claiming it constitutes a trade-secret exemption under Florida law.

This was despite the state Attorney General's authority to oversee sales of charitable non-profit organizations to for-profit entities:
Under its statutory obligation to oversee charities registered in the state, the Attorney General's Office requested the executive pay information from Wuesthoff, Wiggins said. Wuesthoff's lawyers submitted 40 pages of heavily redacted material. Negotiations led to Wuesthoff agreeing to redact only the names and compensation details of the executives.

The materials submitted suggested a lot of executives getting golden parachutes, but not the amounts or conditions involved:
The unredacted portions show as many as eight former executives receiving three years of salary paid out over 12 months, a pay-to-stay retention bonus for continuing to work for the company during sale discussions, a senior executive retirement package and regular retirement pay and extended health benefits. Based on Wuesthoff's tax returns, those payouts will be in the millions.

So, legal action will ensue:
'Therefore we will look to the court for guidance and abide by any judicial ruling on the public record and trade secret issues,' said Ryan Wiggins, communications director for the attorney general.

The notion that how much a for-profit corporation will pay in golden parachutes to former executives of a not-for-profit hospital system is a "trade secret" just boggles the mind.  What could a competitor possibly gain from this information that could lead to specific action that would disadvantage Wuesthoff?

On the other hand, it might be that the size of these golden parachutes, if revealed, would lead to some raised eyebrows, or worse.  Consider first the contrast between payments made and to be made to fortunate executives and the performance of the health care system. 

Note that what is available on the public record (via the hospital system's latest available, that is, 2008 form 990 disclosures to the US Internal Revenue Service) suggests that in the past, Wuesthoff executives were already quite well-paid. On that form we found the following total compensation reported:
Emil Miller, President: $927,543 ($523,069. compensation; $342,130, benefits; $62,344, benefits)
Brian Bodi, Controller: $184,789
George Fayer, CFO: $439,580
Johnette Gindling, Senior Vice President: $236,975
Marchita Marino, Senior Vice President: $264,529

Nearly a million dollars was a lot of compensation for the CEO of a small, non-profit hospital system in 2007.  Although there is no easily publicly available information about executive compensation since 2007 (the year covered by the 2008 report noted above), these high rates of compensation were paid by a hospital system that now apparently has so little capital that it no longer can "compete" without being bought by a for-profit corporation.   Now the executives who could not amass a competitive amount of capital will amass quite a sizable amount of personal riches.

Consider second the contrast between the extraordinary assertion that these golden parachutes should remain secret, and the hospital system's stated interest in "transparency," or its stated devotion to "five core values that drive our hospital and its mission: integrity, courtesy, compassion, competence and stewardship." It seems that preventing embarrassment about executive enrichment may trump transparency and integrity.

Health care, probably infected by the finance industry that brought us the global financial collapse, aka "great recession," seems to have been overcome by "compensation madness."  A central value of many health care organizations seems to be enriching their top leaders/ managers/ executives, no matter what the financial condition of the organization, or the performance of the leaders in terms of fulfilling the organization's mission.  From these perverse incentives, the perverse incentives favoring short-term financial performance over patient care seem to have sprung.  As Prof Mintzberg wrote, "All this compensation madness is not about markets or talents or incentives, but rather about insiders hijacking established institutions for their personal benefit."

If we truly want health reform that addresses spiraling costs, declining access, and threatened quality of care, we need to give health care practitioners and leaders positive incentives for being caring, competent, well-informed, and honest, not for clever financial manipulation and short-term profits, or just for managing to show up for work.

ADDENDUM (2 December, 2010) - 4 days after the above post, Florida Today reported that details about the golden parachutes were released:
[Emil] Miller, who ran Wuesthoff for more than a decade, received $6.25 million total. Of that, $2.2 million was severance pay and $3.2 million was retirement pay. The balance was the cost of his employee benefits.

Former CFO George Fayer has the next highest exit pay at $973,000, which includes a $171,000 for staying through the sale and transition. Fayer is a consultant to the foundation, Gindling said.

Chantal LeConte, who ran the Rockledge hospital, received the third highest payout, $553,000. LeConte's package included about $138,000 for staying through the transition.

Given that the health system was merged out of existence because it supposedly no longer had enough capital to "compete," now we see why system leaders were so reluctant to reveal the amounts.

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