Thursday, January 28, 2010

More California Medical Centers Plagued by Quality Problems While Their Executives Get Bonuses for "Improved Patient Care"

Earlier this week, we noted that while executives at one University of California medical center were getting large bonuses supposedly for "improved patient health," the hospital was being cited for serious health care quality deficiencies.  Now, more stories have appeared that raise questions about the rationale for the generous bonuses handed out to multiple top hospital executives at University of California hospitals. 

University of California - San Diego

First, in alphabetical order by city, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on penalties for poor quality care announced by the California Department of Public Health:
UCSD Medical Center in San Diego was fined $50,000.... The state said the hospital staff failed to follow its surgical policies and procedures, which resulted in a patient having to have a second surgery to remove a foreign object — a guide wire that was left in the patient when a central venous catheter was inserted into the patient’s right femoral vein in the groin area in January 2009. The wire migrated into a chamber of the patient’s heart.

The procedure was done by a first-year intern and supervised by a third-year resident.

This marks the third time the state has penalized UCSD, with the first penalty issued in May 2008 and the second in May 2009.

However, a few days earlier, the Union-Tribune had reported:
Despite criticism from union leaders and rank-and-file employees, University of California regents yesterday overwhelmingly approved $3.1 million in incentive payouts to 38 medical center executives.

The payouts mean, for instance, that former UC San Diego Medical Center CEO Richard Liekweg will receive $136,174 in performance pay for the last fiscal year, added to his base of $660,500.

Regents justified the payments by noting that incentive programs are common in the health care industry, and necessary to compete for top talent.

'It’s the way this industry works,' said Regent William De La Pena, an ophthalmologist and medical director of eye clinics throughout Southern California.

At UCSD Medical Center, 10 senior managers will receive a combined $754,650 for surpassing goals set in areas ranging from improved patient safety to increased revenue. The bonuses amount to 14 to 23 percent added to executives’ salaries.

University of California - San Francisco
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a major University of California - San Francisco teaching hospital was also cited by the state Department of Public Health for quality problems:
San Francisco General was fined $25,000 for leaving a piece of surgical gauze in a patient who underwent an eight-hour operation for two types of cancer in September 2008. The foreign object was discovered about three months later and was removed without surgery during an office visit.

The Chronicle also reported a possibly major breach in the confidentiality of patient records at the UCSF Medical Center:
Medical records for about 4,400 UCSF patients are at risk after thieves stole a laptop from a medical school employee in November, UCSF officials said Wednesday.

The laptop, which was stolen on or about Nov. 30 from a plane as the employee was traveling, was found in Southern California on Jan. 8.

There is no indication that unauthorized access to the files or the laptop actually took place, UCSF officials said, but patients' names, medical record numbers, ages and clinical information were potentially exposed.

The security breach is UCSF's second in recent months. Last month, UCSF officials revealed that a faculty physician responding to an Internet 'phishing' scam potentially exposed the personal information of about 600 patients.

However, despite these obvious quality problems, the San Francisco Business Times reported
University of California regents approved $500,000 in bonuses to six top officials at the UC San Francisco Medical Center, part of a package of $3.1 million in payments to 38 hospital executives across the UC system.

In an interview last week with UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellman, she said that the executive bonuses were tied to meeting specific performance goals, such as reducing clinical infections and increasing satisfaction ratings by patients. She also pointed out that additional payments of $14.3 million to the UCSF Medical Center’s 6,600-strong workforce were approved earlier.

The UCSF officials awarded bonuses were:

* Mark Laret, chief executive officer, $181,227;
* Ken Jones, chief financial officer, interim chief operating officer, $89,162;
* Larry Lotenero, chief information officer, $66,045;
* John Harris, chief strategy and business development officer, $63,196;
* Susan Moore, finance director and interim chief financial officer, $53,261; and
* Sheila Antrum, chief nursing/patient care services officer, $49,280.


So, in summary, multiple executives at three major University of California medical centers received generous bonuses.  The rationale for these bonuses, given out at a time when the university system was under major financial constraints, was that they were incentives for exemplary performance and patient care. 

Yet almost simultaneous with announcement of the bonuses were news reports indicating serious patient care problems at the same medical centers.  The point I am NOT trying to make is that the care at any of these medical centers is bad.  The examples of quality problems were limited.  I am sure that many other major medical centers hae had such quality problems as well.  However, the cases cited above were sufficient to argue that the care at these medical centers was not outstanding, not exemplary.  Yet, the bonuses were awarded not for acceptable performance or average quality.  Their rationale was exceptional performance and quality.  Thus, the rationale for the performance bonuses seems at best naive, if not foolish. 

I would suggest, instead, that the sorts of bonuses given out at the University of California are a product of the current management culture that has been infused into nearly every health care organization in the US.  That culture holds that managers are different from you and me.  They are entitled to a special share of other people's money.  Because of their innate and self-evident brilliance, they are entitled to become rich.  This entitlement exists even when the economy, or the financial performance of the specific organization prevents other people from making any economic progress.  This entitlement exists even if those other poeple actually do the work, and ultimately provide the money that sustains the organization. 

Although the executives of not-for-profit health care organizations generally make far less than executives of for-profit health care corporations, collectively, hired managers of even not-for-profit health care organizations have become richer and richer at a time when most Americans, including many health professionals, and most primary care physicians, have seen their incomes stagnate or fall.  They are less and less restrainted by passive, if not crony boards, and more and more unaccountable.  In a kind of multi-centric coup d'etat of the hired managers, they have become our new de facto aristocracy. 

Or as we wrote in our previous post, executive compensation in health care seems best described as Prof Mintzberg described compensation for finance CEOs, "All this compensation madness is not about markets or talents or incentives, but rather about insiders hijacking established institutions for their personal benefit." As it did in finance, compensation madness is likely to keep the health care bubble inflating until it bursts, with the expected adverse consequences. Meanwhile, I say again, if health care reformers really care about improving access and controlling costs, they will have to have the courage to confront the powerful and self-interested leaders who benefit so well from their previously mission-driven organizations.  It is time to reverse the coup d'etat of the hired managers.


Nirav Patel said...

Really degrades the profession. They should be forced to remove the M.D. from their title so at least they don't mess up things for all of us in the trenches.

Anonymous said...

A doctor once wrote about how much he liked the TV show Scrubs. I guess Bob Kelso and his relationship with the Board are closer to reality than we would like to think.

Steve Lucas

Health Blog said...

Doctors are important for life but they dont deserve bonuses like these.