Healthcare CEO apologizes for big executive bonuses given out after layoffs

At the Denver Health Medical Center in Colorado, front-line workers battling the pandemic have been having a rough time on multiple fronts. There are the obvious challenges of trying to care for the flood of COVID-19 cases without themselves falling victim to the novel coronavirus. But on top of that, they learned back on April 3rd that the hospital’s finances were in rough shape, as is the case with many medical centers around the country. In light of that, their CEO, Robin Wittenstein was forced to lay off some workers and reduce the pay rates and paid hours of the rest, forcing them to “live on less.” They were also asked to take leave without pay and use up their personal time to save the hospital money.

Well, in tough times we all have to make some sacrifices I suppose. But not actually all of us, it seems. The staff just learned last week that on April 10th, one week after the announcement of the pay cuts and related measures, roughly 150 hospital executives and managers were awarded Management Incentive Plan bonuses ranging from $50,000 up to $230,000. The natives quickly grew restless, as you might well imagine. (CBS Denver)

Denver Health Medical Center CEO Robin Wittenstein on Monday apologized to the hospital’s 7,000 employees for the timing of incentive bonuses that were handed out to executives and managers April 10, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The bonuses came a week after Wittenstein asked front-line staff to cut hours and pay and live on less.

“Being informed of incentive payments now to the executive staff, no matter what the explanation,” wrote Wittenstein, “has clearly been painful and dividing, especially because you did not hear about this from me directly first. For this, I am deeply sorry.”

Wittenstein’s email was sent to hospital staff Monday afternoon.

There was no official notification to the staff about the bonuses. Instead, the workers had to learn about it through a CBS News investigation of the hospital’s financial situation. This added insult to injury, since it looked like the hospital was asking the lowest-paid workers to make significant sacrifices at the same time as huge amounts of cash were being doled out to the management. Of course, I probably shouldn’t say that’s what it “looked like.” That’s exactly what they were doing.

By the end of the day, 3,450 workers had signed a petition demanding that the executives give the bonuses back, putting that money toward the front-line workers. One City Councilman published a statement calling for the bonuses to be returned.

One board member issued a memo to all the workers expressing her regret at how “the timing of the 2019 incentive payments has created anger and resentment.” She did not, however, even mention the possibility of giving the money back and said that the board “stands behind the leadership compensation structure.”

The hospital isn’t a government institution and this isn’t taxpayer money we’re talking about, so it’s a question to be settled by the private sector. Executives in such a large enterprise no doubt expect to be well compensated and the board is responsible for keeping the hospital operating in a profitable fashion. But with all of that said… c’mon, man. There’s got to be a point where you start experiencing some level of shame. You told the people who are down on the front lines going toe-to-toe with the pandemic that they needed to take pay cuts and use up their paid leave and then turned around and let 150 executives pocket bonuses amounting to more than the entire annual salary of a lot of your people. In the old days, this would have been the point where you should probably have been keeping an eye out of your window for pitchforks and torches.