OHSU Gives Upper Management, Administrators $12.5 Million in Bonuses Untethered to Performance

The “President’s Recognition Awards” are made while nurses fight for a contract.

IMG_9864 Oregon Health and Science University. (Wesley Lapointe)

Leaders at Oregon Health & Science University held a video conference call last Friday to describe the “President’s Recognition Award”—a bonus program that promises millions of dollars in extra pay to OHSU staff.

“You’ve worked hard during the last fiscal year,” slides from an online presentation obtained by WW said. “Supporting our learners, caring for our patients and their families. Partnering with your colleagues. Improving our processes. We’ve accomplished a lot together.”

The awards will go to a range of administrative employees, from executive vice presidents to nurse managers. In total, OHSU is handing out $12.5 million to just 2,000 of the university’s 19,765 workers. Most of the payouts will be made Oct. 13, the presentation said. Managers got notices Sept. 25 saying which of their employees would get bonuses and how much.

“No individual notices will be sent to employees,” the presentation said.

Plenty won’t be getting awards, including anyone represented by one of the six labor unions at the university. Among those are OHSU’s 3,100 registered nurses, who had voted to go on strike before reaching a tentative contract agreement Monday afternoon.

A chart included in the presentation indicates that top executives will get the biggest bonuses. Executive vice presidents, including chief financial officer Lawrence Furnstahl and chief administrative officer Connie Seeley, are to get awards equivalent to 15.9% of their annual salaries, the slide shows. Deans in the medical school and other vice presidents are to get 9.9%. The scale goes down from there, with “supervisors” getting $1,000 and “individual contributors” getting $750.

The EVPs stand to make a killing. OHSU has yet to answer a public records request for current salaries for the top brass, making estimates tough. The Oregon Nurses Association, the union that had threatened to strike, says OHSU’s top nine executives earned $7,294,099 in 2022. It’s an imperfect methodology, but if you divide that figure by nine, you get $810,455, and 15.9% of that is $128,862.

ONA leaders say their members authorized a strike in part because OHSU executives have gotten chunky raises while frontline workers have struggled to keep up with inflation and the quality of care has suffered. Given those grievances, the new cash awards aren’t a great look.

“OHSU executives are already doing well,” says Kevin Mealy, a spokesman for the nurses’ union. “What isn’t doing well is patient care and staffing.”

A university spokeswoman said as much about what the awards aren’t as what they are. They are not a reinstatement of OHSU’s incentive plan, which, when restarted, will tie compensation to “predefined objectives, including financial targets.” Nor are the awards merit increases, “which are salary raises determined through both employee evaluations and the institution’s financial performance.”

Rather, they are “one way OHSU leadership wanted to acknowledge and celebrate the essential roles that employees have played in helping the institution fulfill its missions.”

The pay bump follows lackluster feedback from OHSU employees about management’s performance. The university polled workers about their jobs in June, and more than 7,000 responded. Only 44% said they had confidence in “senior management’s leadership.” About a third were neutral on that question, and another third had “unfavorable” opinions. Just 67% said they would wholeheartedly recommend OHSU as a “good place to work,” putting the institution in the lowly 26th percentile on that question among academic medical centers nationwide.

The boost also follows news in August that OHSU aims to purchase rival Legacy Health in what would likely be the biggest hospital merger in Oregon history. One of the things the nurses’ union wants in negotiations is the right to reopen their employment contract as the Legacy deal progresses. As of now, the two hospital systems have signed only a letter of intent.

The Legacy deal has soured relations. Union officials asked CFO Furnstahl in April if any big mergers were in the works, and he said no, ONA’s Mealy says. “We learned about the Legacy merger when the public did. This isn’t an area where trust has been established.”

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