Thursday, January 12, 2012

Three Golden Parachutes and Some Unexpected Sequels

Golden parachutes are an always fascinating aspect of executive compensation in health care.  I have collected three relatively recently revealed stories about golden parachutes given to government and non-profit hospital system CEOs, at least two of which involve unexpected, and also fascinating sequels.  They will appear in order of the apparent size of the parachutes.

Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System

Santa Clara Health and Hospital System is a county (government) system of moderate size in California.  Last week, the compensation given its outgoing CEO in 2010 was revealed by the San Jose Business Journal:
Former Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System CEO Kim Roberts walked away with an impressive chunk of change when she abruptly left the job in February 2010.

According to a city and county salary report released from the State Controllers Office, the position earned a little over $1 million that year.

A county spokeswoman confirmed that the total included accrued vacation, sick leave and other payments Roberts was entitled to.

The salary was the highest in the Bay Area for public employees in 2010.

Note that
Roberts was hired as CEO in March 2007 with a five-year contract. The agreement included a starting salary of $285,744 with annual salary adjustments, severance and other benefits.

The issue here is that Ms Roberts was the CEO of a local government run health system. Traditionally, the pay given to people in such positions is closely scrutinized by politicians and tax payers, and hence is usually less than that given out by private, non-profit hospital systems, much less for-profit ones. Nonetheless, while it appears that Ms Roberts got something more than $700,000 worth of compensation beyond her usual salary in her last year, the nature of this compensation, and the justification for it is unclear.

Erlanger Health System

The story that got my attention appeared two days ago in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:
After more than a month of negotiations, Erlanger trustees reversed a previous vote and approved a controversial $728,000 severance package for outgoing CEO Jim Brexler.

Trustees voted 4-4 against the same severance package in December but voted 5-4 to approve it during a 30-minute meeting Monday morning.

More detail about the package:
The approved agreement provides 15 months of severance for Brexler, worth about $713,000. He also keeps his Erlanger health coverage for 18 months, paying his employee portion, a benefit worth about $15,000.

This story is actually a complex sequel. We discussed CEO compensation at Erlanger Health System, an academic medical center affiliated with the University of Tennesse, a year ago. At that time, we noted that a substantial bonus given to then CEO Jim Brexler was based on favorable financial results in the previous year, but did not apparently take into account the more recent decline in the system's finances. That bonus was justified by the typical paean to the leadership's "real expertise in health care" by one member of its board.

By last month, however, Erlanger's finances had deteriorated dramatically. A Free Press article then stated,
Erlanger hospital employees have been asked to take 12 days off in the next two months, consider voluntary buyouts and face possible layoffs as Chattanooga's only public hospital bleeds money.

The hospital has lost more $6 million in the last five months, half of that in November.

The reason for this accelerating misfortune deterioration remain unexplained. Apparently, CEO Brexler had decided to depart, for also unclear reasons, two months earlier:
In October, the hospital announced CEO Jim Brexler would retire at the end of the year.

At that time, the board had voted to give him the severance package described above, but then suddenly began to reconsider after how bad things were became clear:
The board voted earlier this month not to give Brexler a more than $700,000 severance package, but the issue may be brought back up, board members have said.

It was unclear whether the decline in Erlanger's finances had to do with its relationship with another troubled hospital, Hutcheson Medical Center, as described in another Free Press article:
Despite a new board, new management and the infusion of a $20 million line of credit, a struggling North Georgia public hospital continues to lose money.

Erlanger at Hutcheson, formerly known as Hutcheson Medical Center, lost more than $9 million in the first five months of the 2012 fiscal year, which began in July. It lost the most -- $2.7 million -- in September.

Hutcheson board Chairman Corky Jewell could not be reached for comment last week.

The hospital's administrator, Debbie Reeves, and other management personnel were not in the office the week between Christmas and New Year's, according to spokeswoman Haley Johnson.

The publicly funded hospital in Fort Oglethorpe had been losing about $1 million a month, defaulted on a $35 million bond and laid off 75 employees in fiscal year 2011.

In May, Erlanger Health System took over management of the hospital and extended up to $20 million in credit to it.

Apparently inflated compensation to Hutcheson's CEO was also a subject of one of our posts from about a year ago. At that time, we wrote, "despite a major financial loss, lay-offs and service discontinuations, and a bond default," the CEO got "bonus and incentive compensation" in 2009.

So, to summarize, despite major financial problems, Hutcheson Medical Center's CEO got a bonus and incentive compensation in 2009. As its situation got worse, it was taken over in some sense by Erlanger Health System, whose CEO also got a bonus despite increasing financial problems in 2010. Thereafter, the finances of Erlanger really declined, its CEO announced his retirement, and still will collect a golden parachute.

Thus Erlanger Health System's golden parachute for its outgoing CEO symbolizes the anti-gravitational powers of executive compensation. While lavish executive pay is often justified by short-term financial results, health care executives seem to be able to just keep collecting more and more until they have to flee. Health care seems to more and more be run for the benefit of self-interested insiders.

Also, this case demonstrates how skeptical we ought to be of the breathless praise for health care executives and managers and the uncritical touting of their latest advances and initiatives.  (By the way, we posted here, just before it became apparent how badly Erlanger's finances were collapsing, about its breathless advertisement of a "new service excellence program" for Erlanger employees run by the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain.  One wonders whether the attention to the peripheral ahead of core responsibilities this denoted could have been one reason for the system's decline.) 

And we are just working our way up to our big case....

University of Chicago Medical Center

This story actually dates back to 2009, but was first revealed briefly in late 2011, in Becker's Hospital Review,
The other three highest-paid hospital CEOs in Chicago in 2010 include the following:
James Madara, MD, and Ken Sharigian, University of Chicago Medical Center: $7.9 million
Note: This includes severance for Dr. Madara, who resigned in Oct. 2009. Mr. Sharigian served as the interim in 2010.

A little more detail came out in a side-bar to a story on executive compensation in higher education by the Chronicle of Higher Education:
James L. Madara, dean of the school of medicine and chief executive of the medical center, U. of Chicago
Total compensation: $7,038,944
Mr. Madara’s base salary was $1.3-million, and he received $2.5-million in severance pay.

There was also a hint of why this was so interesting:
Mr. [sic] Madara stepped down after seven years as dean and three as chief executive to return to the faculty. He resigned amid controversy over his management decisions, such as a plan to redirect medical-center patients to neighboring hospitals, according to local news reports.

A little digging shows there was more to it than that. Recall our recent post that discussed the "Urban Health Initiative," a program ostensibly meant to direct some patients, allegedly mainly poor patients, to more appropriate health care venues, allegedly away from the Emergency Department of the university medical center, and again allegedly to make room for patients who need and whose insurance can pay for more lucrative services.

By February, 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that
In February, two high-ranking doctors quit their administrative posts to protest the plan, saying it could lengthen already long waiting times for patients who visit the ER.

In particular,
The two doctors who gave up their administrative posts in Chicago were Dr. Vanden Hoek, who stepped down as interim chief of emergency medicine, and pulmonology researcher Joe G.N. Garcia, who had been chairman of medicine. The doctors still can practice medicine at the hospital.

About a dozen other doctors from the emergency room and other departments had signed a letter of protest over the hospital administration's plan to reduce the number of beds available to emergency patients in the ER and other units.

Three months later, as reported by Chicago Business,
Some University of Chicago Medical Center faculty members are accusing CEO James Madara of putting hospital finances ahead of research and teaching.

A letter delivered to Dr. Madaar last month and signed by 76 faculty members asserts that, since adding the hospital CEO title in 2006, Dr. Madara has lost focus on his role as a dean of the Hyde Park medical center's vaunted research and academic enterprise. A preocccupation with hospital profits and an 'insular management style' have 'disenfranchised' the faculty, the letter says.

By that month, according to the Wall Street Journal,
More than 190 doctors at the University of Chicago Medical Center signed a letter to trustees protesting plans to reduce the number of beds available to emergency patients as 'unnecessarily risky' and a threat to patient safety.

The plan was put on hold by the university president a few days later. Dr Madara resigned in August.

So, somewhat like the case above, this involved a hospital system CEO who got a very large golden parachute after leaving under fire, not for declining revenue, but for his role in overseeing a program of questionable ethics, one possibly bad for patients, and having lost the confidence of some important proportion of his medical faculty.

He did not, however, go off quietly into the night. His next stop was Leavitt Partners (as noted in this AMA press release), founded by former President George W Bush administration Secretary for Health and Human Services James Leavitt.

As we noted hereLeavitt Partners advertises that it "advises clients that invest in health care and food safety." It does not publicize its client list, but that list apparently includes Alliance Health Networks, whose press release noted that Leavitt Partners "will help it expand its presence in the US health industry and beyond "(look here); and Connextions, Inc, whose press release noted that it would work with Leavitt Partners to " refine existing health insurance exchange models for federal and state governments, as well as private sector organizations that are navigating health care reform law," (look here.)  Mr Leavitt joined the board of Medtronic last year (look here). 

Then, however, he got back into the CEO business.  While still maintaining a role at Leavitt, in 2011, per the AMA release,
The American Medical Association (AMA) today named James L. Madara, M.D., as its new Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer. Dr. Madara will assume leadership of the nation’s oldest and largest physician group on July 1.

That news release noted his past positions,
the Thompson Distinguished Service Professorship and deanship at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, where he was the longest serving Pritzker dean in the last 35 years. Subsequently, he added the responsibility of CEO of the University of Chicago Medical Center, bringing together the university’s biomedical research, teaching and clinical activities.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it did not mention the controversies at the medical center that preceded his resignation, nor his sizable golden parachute, nor his ongoing role at Leavitt Partners.

So, the American Medical Association claims to represent all US physicians and their values. It turns out that its current Executive Vice President and CEO is a former hospital system CEO who departed under fire with a golden parachute beyond any severance package a practicing or academic physician would dream about.  He also is a former and current consultant with a firm lead by one of our better recent examples of beneficiaries of the revolving door.  We have come a long, and the wrong way since the AMA asserted, "the practice of medicine should not be commercialized, nor treated as a commodity in trade." (See this post.)

This story is not just about the ridiculous compensation given to health care executives, and how this provides perverse incentives and suggests that many health care leaders have become insiders who put their self-interest ahead of the health care mission. This story is also about the connectedness of these insiders, and how they appear to control nearly every part of health care.

The Moral of the Stories

Maybe if I write this often enough, it will get some notice.... health care organizations need leaders that uphold the core values of health care, and focus on and are accountable for the mission, not on secondary responsibilities that conflict with these values and their mission, and not on self-enrichment. Leaders ought to be rewarded reasonably, but not lavishly, for doing what ultimately improves patient care, or when applicable, good education and good research. On the other hand, those who authorize, direct and implement bad behavior ought to suffer negative consequences sufficient to deter future bad behavior.

If we do not fix the severe problems affecting the leadership and governance of health care, and do not increase accountability, integrity and transparency of health care leadership and governance, we will be as much to blame as the leaders when the system collapses.


Afraid said...

Employment by the AMA of an individual who many doctors publically complained about is absolutely unconscionable.

Does this guy have connections to the White House?

Steve Lucas said...

When did we start paying civil servants with golden parachutes?

This is unbelievable.

Steve Lucas