Reporter digs into nonprofit hospital CEO pay

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s M.B. Pell has assembled a look at CEO pay at local nonprofit hospitals. Pell hits hard at the top of the story, pointing out that top executives are pulling in ever-growing six- and seven-digit salaries in a time of cutbacks and job losses, and demonstrating that the state loses millions in tax revenue thanks to the hospitals’ exempt status.

It’s the sort of meaty accountability work that we expect to see on a tax filing-based story. Slightly more surprising? Pell endeavored to complete the picture with a healthy dose of perspective, reminding readers that in urban areas like Atlanta, even nonprofit hospitals are often complicated billion-dollar conglomerates. In Georgia, Pell writes, “hospitals report to 27 state and federal agencies and engage in multimillion-dollar building projects. The larger hospital systems have billions in revenue and are among the largest employers in their communities. Many also operate for-profit subsidiaries.” Those “billions” provide valuable context when discussing a $600,000 pay package.

Hospital executives and industry experts consider the examination of salaries a titillating issue for the public, but a subject lacking in substance.

Even if salaries were cut dramatically, the savings would not add significantly to hospitals’ charitable missions, Parker said.

Tax exempt hospitals in the metro area provided $932 million in charitable care in 2009, according to an analysis of financial survey data reported to the state by hospitals. The hospitals spent $61 million to pay officers, directors, trustees and key employees, tax forms show.

Of the uncompensated care, nearly a third, or $287.5 million, was provided by one hospital, Grady Memorial. Grady CEO Michael Young, who left the hospital in June, made $833,646 in 2009.

But for-profit hospitals in the Atlanta area pay taxes and they provided uncompensated care totaling $87 million in 2009, according to financial survey data.

For a counterpoint, Pell turned to a few outspoken patient advocates and a 2009 study conducted by University of Connecticut researchers. It’s another data point that demonstrates the depth of Pell’s research.

CEOs of nonprofit hospitals in Connecticut who increased the number of beds at their facilities by 10 percent typically got pay increases of just under 8 percent, shows a study of nonprofit hospitals by two professors at the University of Connecticut.

A 10 percent increase in the amount of charity care provided, however, typically resulted in a 1.5 percent decrease in the CEO’s pay, the study shows.

Pell’s story takes the national picture into account, but if you’re just looking to get up to speed on the national debate over nonprofit hospitals, charity care and tax exemption as it relates to executive pay, I recommend you scroll down to the final subhead: “Eyeing tax exemption.”

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