Five months after Bert Fish Medical Center's failed merger, one board member said he was surprised to learn payments are still being made toward the $1 million buyout of the former hospital CEO.
Hospital board member Joe Benedict said he didn't know former hospital Chief Executive Officer Bob Williams, who steered the board into the illegal deal with Adventist Health System, is due to receive his $289,000-a-year salary until 2014 –– paid through the publicly owned hospital.
At the time the merger was announced, a memorandum of understanding with Williams became public and showed the deal had triggered a three-year buyout clause in Williams' contract. Starting July 1, 2010, the Adventist agreement paid him his salary for three years, as his contract required, plus seven months and eight days –– a deal worth $1 million and benefits.
'That man has got away with a lot more than he should have,' said Benedict, a former County Council member, explaining that he considers Williams as responsible for the failed merger as Jim Heekin, the board's former attorney.
These payments were made to the former CEO despite the cost of the failure of the merger:
The hospital district incurred $3.4 million in administrative and legal fees as a result.
Apparently, there are allegations that the merger failed because former CEO Williams agreed to keep the board meetings of this public hospital secret, which was illegal:
The hospital board has voted to pursue a legal malpractice lawsuit against Heekin, of the Orlando firm Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, for his advice to keep the public out of talks about merging the New Smyrna Beach hospital with a partner. The 21 closed meetings that were held over 16 months were called 'so much darkness for so long' they couldn't be cured, according to a ruling earlier this year from Circuit Judge Richard Graham, who threw out the merger.
Williams is quoted in transcripts of the closed meetings telling board members not to tell anyone Adventist had been chosen as Bert Fish's partner
Other contractual provisions for golden parachutes exist, but have yet to be activated:
Benedict said he's still hopeful he can undo other buyout clauses in hospital contracts he believes obligate the hospital to pay more than is allowed, under state law, for the departure of Bert Fish Medical Center administrators. According to the current contracts, provided to the News-Journal, the hospital's current CEO, chief financial officer and chief of nursing must be paid 24 months' salary should they be dismissed from their positions through no fault of their own. Their departures could be a possibility if Bert Fish were to seek another merger partner who doesn't want to keep them on.
The contracts were executed June 30. On July 1, a new state law went into effect that limits the buyout of public employees to 20 months.
So, a hospital CEO had a contract that made him eligible to begin receiving "golden parachute" payments just because a merger was in process, and these payments could not be stopped even though the merger was declared illegal, and hence never occurred. We noted recently that CEOs and other top officials of health care organizations are often the first to benefit financially from mergers and acquisitions, even when such transactions to not prove so beneficial to the affected institutions, much less patients' and the public's health in the long run. Here is a case in which a CEO could get extra money just because a merger was contemplated. This is some sort of new record for health care leaders personally profiting from their insider positions.
There has been growing public outrage about how ordinary people who play by the rules are disadvantaged in today's economy, while insiders profit from their positions. There ought to be equal outrage in health care over its version of this pheonomenon.
As long as health care leaders can continue to put their self-interest ahead of the health care mission in this way, is it any wonder that health care costs continue to rise while access and quality suffer? When will would be health care reformers realize that to truly reform health care, we will have to reform health care leadership? We need health care leaders who understand and uphold the mission, are accountable for how well they do so, and whose incentives depend on how they do so. We do not need leaders who put their self-interest first. Right now, however, that seeems to be the leadership we have.