Here is the background. Mercy Health, formerly Catholic Health Partners, claims to be the largest health system in Ohio, and one of the largest in the US (look here). It's mission is:
to extend the healing ministry of Jesus by improving the health of our communities with emphasis on people who are poor and underserved. In all that we do, we strive to demonstrate our core values of compassion, excellence, human dignity, justice, sacredness of life and service.
Its current CEO is Michael D Connelly, MA, JD. In his latest CEO's message, he stated,
our commitments to the Catholic Church, its ethical and religious directives and our Mission are unwavering. Our name change reinforces our fidelity to our powerful message – of compassionate, quality healthcare – bringing God’s mercy to the poor and under-served. As Pope Francis shares 'the Lord’s most powerful message (is) mercy.'
However, as reported in Becker's Hospital Review in 2011, Mr Connelly's total compensation in 2009 was $1,570,451. In a December, 2012 Journal-News article, the update was
Michael Connelly, president and chief executive officer of Cincinnati-based Catholic Health Partners, received total compensation last year of $2.2 million for his position over a $3.6 billion organization with more than 32,500 employees. James May, president and chief executive of Mercy Health, a division of Catholic Health, received total compensation in 2011 of $1.2 million.
Mr Connelly Sues for Defamation
This now is relevant to a story reported briefly in Cincinnatti.com,
Michael Connelly, president and CEO of Mercy Healthy, has filed a lawsuit against Service Employees International Union No. 1199 alleging invasion of privacy and defamation.
The reason? A van displaying a large image of Connelly featuring the words 'GREED! GREED! GREED!' and his personal telephone number was circling his Hyde Park neighborhood Monday.
The billboard on wheels featured the following text: 'Mercy Health CEO Michael Connelly is getting rich off the sick, disabled and indigent!'
The article included a picture of the van, emblazoned with a picture of Mr Connelly labeled "Mercy Health - $2,000,000 - CEO." Further text included the assertion that "Mr Connelly is getting rich off the sick, disabled and indigent."
''This is personal and not a 'labor dispute,'' stated the lawsuit filed by Connelly Wednesday in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas. The lawsuit has been filed against the union and its president, Becky Williams.
'Defendants acted with malice in the way they structured and published their radio ad and the mobile billboard by accusing Connelly of disregarding the medical needs of Mercy Health's most vulnerable and sympathetic patients in a way to excite and offend public sensibilities to achieve maximum destruction of Connelly's personal and professional reputation,' according to court documents.
Actually, as reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier, the van that so offended Mr Connelly "listed his work phone number," not his personal phone number A brief look on Google revealed that it is the main number of the hospital system, not his personal line. That article also included,
But Anthony Caldwell, spokesperson for the union, said the radio ad and billboard are actually bringing the truth to the public.
'I don't see why they see this as defamation … we are merely representing the opinion of the workers and of the union,' he said. 'The issue, I believe, is that they are not used to being held accountable by people in the community. Sometimes the truth is hard to handle.'
This little contretemps certainly was the product of a labor dispute, and I do not want to take a side in that dispute. There are some things to be learned from the kerfuffle, however.
First, the huge disconnect between the pay now frequently given to top hired managers of non-profit hospitals and hospital systems and the stated mission and/or track records of these organizations is now less anechoic. It is becoming a topic of public discussion, and becoming relevant to such things as labor negotiations.
The obvious non sequitur in this case is a hospital system ostensibly devoted to needs of the poor and under-served but that pays enough to make its CEO a millionaire many times over. At best this appears unseemly, and certainly seems specifically worthy of public discussion.
The need for such discussion appears all the more acute because of current concerns about health care costs and access, and reasonable questions about how much the public money that provides a great deal of hospital revenue (e.g., in the US through Medicare and Medicaid programs) ought to go to make top managers rich. Trying to impede such discussion by bringing litigation against those who participate in it in some states might be regarded as a SLAPP, strategic litigation against public participation. (Ohio, however, is not one of the states with specific laws meant to discourage SLAPPs.)
Second, this incident demonstrates at a minimum the overdeveloped sense of entitlement of hired managers who are able to amass such fortunes. It is understandable that Mr Connelly was annoyed by the attention his inflated pay was receiving. However, he chose not to merely verbally express his argument with the sponsors of the "greed" van. Instead, he chose to use his organization's resources to launch a defamation lawsuit. In Ohio, as in many states, to defend against defamation one must simply prove the truth of the matter (look here). The text on the van announced he was a $2,000,000 CEO." In fact, in 2011, according to public records, his total compensation exceeded $2 million. The text also stated he is getting rich off the sick, disabled, and indigent. Earning more than $1 million a year seems to fit the common definition of getting rich. By definition, the hospital's patients include the sick and disabled. The hospital's stated mission is to serve the poor. Whether or not by taking such a salary he demonstrated greediness is a matter of opinion, but it does not seem unreasonable to characterized someone getting over $2 million a year supposedly to serve the poor and under-served as "greedy." There might be worse adjectives one could use to describe these circumstances. Furthermore, how Mr Connelly's privacy was invaded by publicizing the main phone number of his organization escapes me. Thus the claims that Mr Connelly's organization is making on his behalf seem a bit fabulous, and possibly frivolous.
Mr Connelly runs a 501(c)3 organization whose tax returns, which include his total compensation, are by law public. If he is afraid that thus revealing his total compensation makes him subject to ridicule, maybe he should consider asking for his compensation to be reduced.
As we have noted many times before, top leaders of big health care organizations are now often paid enough to make them instant multimillionaires. Their supporters, often cronies, other managers of other big organizations, or their paid employees or vendors, often trumpet the same tired talking points to try to justify this pay (look here). One frequently used talking point is that to be the CEO one must be "brilliant." It may be that many of those leaders are starting to believe their own public relations, and really think they are so brilliant as to be worth millions of dollars, and so worthy that no plebeian ought to question them.
Are such entitled people the right people to run health care organizations, particularly those claiming to be in virtuous service to the poor and under-served?
So to repeat, true health care reform would put in place leadership that understands the health care context, upholds health care professionals' values, and puts patients' and the public's health ahead of extraneous, particularly short-term financial concerns. We need health care governance that holds health care leaders accountable, and ensures their transparency, integrity and honesty.
But this sort of reform would challenge the interests of managers who are getting very rich off the current system.
As Robert Monks also said in a 2014 interview,
People with power are very reluctant to give it up. While all of us recognize the problem, those with the power to change it like things the way they are.So if challenged a little, they may sue the challengers. If challenged a lot, who knows what might happen.
So I am afraid the US may end up going far down this final common pathway before enough people manifest enough strength to make real changes.