Monday, December 27, 2010

Hackensack University Medical Center CEO's $5 Million Golden Parachute: "the Public Will Perceive the Institution as a Kind of Insider's Group"

Last year was an embarassing one for Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC), a large academic medical center affiliated with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.  In April, former state senator Joseph Coniglio was convicted of fraud (against the public) and extortion for a scheme that involved him being paid $5000 a month for undefined consulting work for HUMC while he promoted the hospital's interests in the state legislature (see post here).  A subsequent investigative report revealed widespread self-dealing on the part of the HUMC board (see post here).  Soon after, the HUMC CEO, John Ferguson, announced his retirement, per the Newark Star-Ledger.

Scandal Leads to Apparent Reforms

So when I read an article from last week on entitled "Hackensack University Medical Center works to revamp reputation hurt by trial" I hoped that these travails lead to some real improvements in the leadership and governance of the institution.  Hope springs eternal, and the article did describe some apparent progress.

The medical center's board of trustees was streamlined:
the hospital's board of governors — once a 57-member behemoth run by a core group of powerful and politically connected members — was whittled to less than half its former size and is now overseen by what the hospital is calling a 'reinvigorated' parent company, Hillcrest Health Service System Inc.

Conflicts of interest and self-dealing were apparently banned
Members of the two boards may no longer do business directly with the hospital — a significant change because some of them own or work for companies that have been paid millions of dollars by Hackensack. In 2009 alone, these companies were paid $13.2 million by the hospital, according to its federal tax filings. They were paid $17.4 million in 2008.
The Devil in the Details
Although the board was reduced in size, it gained almost no new members, and the politically-connected members who previously were accused of self-dealing remained:
Serving as chairman of the board of governors is Joseph M. Sanzari, a construction magnate, multimillion-dollar donor and longtime board member. His company, a joint venture with former board Chairman J. Fletcher Creamer Jr., has been one of the highest-paid independent contractors at the medical center.

There were no new board members until Tuesday, when two were appointed. Many who held influential positions on the board of governors — including Sanzari, Creamer and Joseph Simunovich — are still in key roles.

Furthermore, there was a big loop-hole in the apparent ban on conflicts of interest and self-dealing:
members of both the board of governors and Hillcrest can still do business with the hospital as long as they work as subcontractors or move to the foundation board or a newly created advisory panel that doesn't have voting or fiduciary powers.

Members of the board of governors and Hillcrest still can be hired as subcontractors.

The ban on doing business with the hospital also doesn't cover members of the advisory panel or the board that oversees the foundation. About a dozen members of these two groups are affiliated with companies that have made money — millions, in some cases – in work with the hospital.

As one outside expert noted,
'They may have changed the structure, but if you don't change the people, you don't change the culture,' said Jamie Orlikoff, a governance expert who advises the National Hospital Association.

'People who had influence and clout when they were members of a fiduciary board will still have influence and clout even if they are moved to an advisory board,' Orlikoff said.

'The concern is that the public will perceive the institution as a kind of insider's group and things are being done to benefit them,' said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy.
The CEO's Golden Parachute

Hope spring eternal, but is too often crushed.  However, at least the former CEO is gone. But it turns out he got quite a going away present. As described in a companion article,
John P. Ferguson received a severance package of more than $5 million when he was forced out as president of Hackensack University Medical Center last year, bringing his total compensation for 2009 to $7.7 million, according to recent federal tax filings.

The other executives who presided over HUMC in 2009, the year that its former consultant was convicted, also did very well for themselves,
His senior vice president for operations, Doreen Santora, received $2.6 million — including more than $1.5 million in severance — when she left in the executive reshuffling that followed, the documents show.

In all, seven top executives at the non-profit hospital each received more than $1 million in total compensation in 2009, up from five the year before.

This extremely generous compensation could not be related to the financial success of the hospital at the time:
The compensation packages came in a year in which tax filings show the 775-bed medical center employed 317 fewer staff and Moody's Investors Service downgraded its credit rating to Baa1, leading to higher interest payments when new debt is issued.

If this was pay for performance, by what measure these executives' performance was measured was not clear. Actually, who even decided to award them such sumptuous pay was unclear:
only a handful of board members were aware of the millions of dollars in pay and perks that had been handed out to executives over the last few years. Several employees saw their overall compensation double or triple.

Board members expressed 'sticker shock' when they first learned of the compensation numbers at a fall 2009 meeting, said J. Fletcher Creamer Jr., who completed his term as chairman of the board of governors in March.

'We went through every single executive' whose salaries must be disclosed on the IRS form for non-profit institutions, Creamer said in an interview earlier this year. 'It's the first time they actually saw it. … We always made the numbers available if they wanted to come see it, but not everyone looked.'

Keep in mind that per the first article, Mr Creamer will still be in a "key role" at HUMC, his failure to think that top executives' compensation was something his fellow board members needed to consider notwithstanding.


Is this any way to run a hospital "which has a national reputation for quality care?" The hospital leadership did and still appears to be an "insider's group" which works to promote its own self-interest.

As we have said before, far too often the leaders of not-for-profit health care institutions seem more interested in padding their own bottom lines than upholding the institutions' missions. They often seem entirely unaware of their duty to put those missions ahead of their own self-interest. Like the financial services sector in the era of "greed is good," health care too often seems run by "insiders hijacking established institutions for their personal benefit." True health care reform would encourage leadership of health care who understand health care and care about its mission, rather than those who see a quick way to make a small fortune.


Afraid said...

Reading this post leaves me sad and angry. Likely the only people who will experience a negative consequence will be anyone involved with letting the information out or helping to nail the guilty.

How can our government keep condoning this? The only explanation I think is reasonable is because they are complicit or incompetent. Reform healthcare by crooked overseers or nincompoops? What in the world makes us think that will work?

Yet I know many many good people in healthcare and government. In fact most of the people I know in the world are good people. Systems that allow for such corrupting graft and collusion must either attract the ethically devoid or create the blackness themselves.

And by now, shame won’t change the shameless; perhaps pitchforks would work followed by reforming the system that allows this to occur.

shocked... shocked I say said...

Let's see... State Senator Joseph Coniglio was convicted of fraud. Would he be any relation to Dianne Coniglio who was fingered as the real author of the infamous Nemeroff-Schatzberg textbook? She worked for a so-called medical education communications company called STI, in the heart of New Jersey's pharma district.

Probably a good bet.