Commentary & Opinion
12:40 pm
Tue September 18, 2012

David Nightingale: 2 Hospitals

 In the 19th century, Joseph Henry, first director of the Smithsonian, refused any salary increases, saying that public servants were there to serve, rather than to enrich themselves.

 Now, there are two hospitals in Kingston NY – the Benedictine Hospital, a Catholic hospital (founded on its present site in 1906), and the non-sectarian Kingston hospital (founded in 1894), institutions in which, over the years, my family and I have had sundry  procedures, such as appendix, hernias, and so on.

 With those 2 hospitals there was of course a certain amount of duplication, until consolidation 4 years ago under the newly formed Health Alliance, which now runs Margaretville hospital, as well as Woodland Pond and Mountainside Residential Care Centers. The salary of the CEO of this Health Alliance was set at 1 1/2times that of the President of the United States.

 NY state turned over $47 million towards this amalgamation, and a $12 million update of an Emergency Room in the Kingston hospital took place immediately.

 A headline in the Kingston Freeman in May 2012 (ref1)stated that just 2 years later (that is, in the year 2010) the 2 hospitals in Kingston lost $3 million, while the aggregate draw for the top 18 executives of Health Alliance, such as Chief Information and Communications Officer, VP for Mission Effectiveness, and so on, was $4 1/2 million.

 The executives cited the Federal Government's reimbursement rates for Medicare patients – a fact that surely was known all along – and the poor economy (amongst other things) but there were no citations for their overpay being a contributing factor.

 Two months later another headline stated that the leaders were proposing to completely close Kingston Hospital – the one with the brand new ER facility – and a brand new $12 million ER should now be constructed in the Benedictine Hospital. They would also close the Ambulatory Surgery Center, particularly since abortions were included in those services [ref.2].

 Yet another headline this September (ref.3)quoted the chairwoman of the Health Alliance Board as saying that the cutting of jobs was already underway. As is almost axiomatic, it did not appear to include cuts in the executive domain. She said (quote) “...cuts were made as part of the company's continuing effort to reduce expenses... [and] we will continue to reduce staff to reduce overhead....”

 Now I have seen much of this before. In my 31 years at the State University I frequently read this kind of managerial statement – janitors to be cut whenever there was a budget crisis, but not administration. But it is surely the duty of managers and executives to foresee and forestall such crises, and, like a ship's captain and crew, be keenly aware of winds and waves. Those are the qualifications managers are paid for.

 I can't help wondering: do the executives of failing banks and companies ever apologize, resign, or commit harakiri or seppuku, as even now in Japan? No, of course not. The norm is for them to take large separation pay, and either transfer or retire with unseemly pensions.

 My view is that Kingston's 2 long-term hospitals could get back onto their feet. These executive jobs could be re-advertised, to attract younger talented people willing to work at more reasonable remuneration levels, and with ambition to make things work. They would fundamentally have to realize that they are public servants, just as Joseph Henry did.

I'm sure there are such people in the Hudson Valley who are capable of making Kingston's 2 now allied hospitals a success. Not a Sloan-Kettering state of the art jewel,perhaps, yet not inconceivably a satellite of such – and a local success for our large population.

References:

1.  (Kingston) Daily Freeman, 5/6/12, p.1

2.  New Paltz Times, 7/5/12, “Rx for Hospitals”,H.Reynolds

3.  Daily Freeman, 9/6/12, “Health Alliance Cuts Jobs”, p.1

4.  Daily Freeman, 8/24/12,  p.8.

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