Need the best people we can afford

A few weeks back we discussed claims by the groups fighting the closure of the NVH Assisted Living that since 2010 the top nine administrative staff at North Valley Hospital had been given pay increases by the hospital board totaling nearly $280,000. We published a chart they based on public records provided by the district that seemed to bare out the group’s claims. In the light of closing the assisted living and the clinics in Tonasket and Oroville that sounded outrageous and we said so. That amount alone would more than cover the A/L’s annual losses and maybe even the Oroville clinic’s.

However, after sitting down and crunching the numbers with district CEO Linda Michel last week some surprising facts were revealed that were not taken into account by those who wanted to stop the AL closing, as well as those seeking a recall of the hospital board members. In fact, since 2010 several administrative positions have been eliminated entirely or combined into other peoples’ responsibility and resulted in a $225,403 savings for the district. While several people did get salary increases, which amounted to $278,033, there was an overall decrease in total salary for the top 13 positions that resulted in the net savings of $225,403, according to the district’s financial numbers. This is a step in the right direction when paying down warrants owed to the county is still a top priority to improve the district’s overall health.

According to Michel, many of the salary increases were part of a five percent raise promised by the previous administrator. We can argue that while $1.3 million are still owed in warrants a pay increase, even while promised by “a previous administrator,” sounds like bad timing at best. And when many of the top paid salaries are double, triple and even quadruple what your average person is earning in the north county it is more than that. Most of us in the public and private sector have had to forego pay increases and sometimes pay cuts for the overall good of the company.

We continue to insist that $160,000 a year for a CEO is too much money and we’re sorry but a human resources director earning over $100,000 a year is unrealistic no matter how many years they have worked at the hospital. This shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of the people working there, but more a reality check. While economic growth is still slow and many people are still without jobs we need to be realistic about what our little hospital district can afford. Any savings we get from eliminating positions or combining jobs (at higher pay for the person taking on the extra work) should be used to pay down the district’s debt, not for pay increases. Even so we could probably live with a five percent increase, but going from $130,000 annual salary in 2010 for the CEO to $160,000 in 2013 is a more than a 25 percent increase no matter who’s math you use. (editor’s note: in this week’s G-T there was a misreading of the numbers and it was incorrectly put as a 100 percent increase basing an original salary at $75,000 when in fact it was the $130,000 figure). You can argue that she was underpaid in 2010 and that may be true compared to other hospital districts, but $30,000 underpaid we have a hard time relating to that. The CEO wasn’t one of those who was promised the five percent increase though. Someone who was went from an annual salary of $71,344 in 2010 to $76,336 in 2011 to $104,000 in 2012. The HR director got a lot more than five percent, even if you’re increasing her 2011 salary. Having the added responsibility of the Drip Line (coffee shop) well don’t get us started on that. (Michel reminds us that the responsibility for the raises for the top administration was her call as CEO, and not that of the board).

We were shown studies of salaries for top administrative employees at other regional hospitals that indicate NVH was below the median. Probably true, but we’ve got to compete based on our local economy and not on what others are doing. Yes, you have to pay to attract the best people, but it is a matter of what the district can afford. We were told by the board that we can’t afford the clinics and the A/L, can we afford these salaries, even with the savings from eliminating or combining positions?

Need the best people we can afford