When it comes to bonuses and salaries, the Tampa area has some of the region's best compensated Veterans Affairs employees.
Five of the top-10 bonus earners in the VA region covering Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands work in the Tampa area, according to records obtained by The Tampa Tribune. And six of the region's top-10 highest salaried employees — all physicians earning more than $350,000 — work at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, according to the records.
At Haley, 679 employees earn at least $100,000 and of those 262 received bonuses, or what the VA calls “performance awards,” totaling more than $590,000. At the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, 486 employees make $100,000 or more and of those 185 received a total of $344,000 in performance awards.
There are 40 employees — all physicians — earning at least $300,000 at Haley and 11 employees — all physicians — earning at least that much at the Young center, according to VISN 8 salary and bonus information obtained under a federal Freedom of Information Act request. The vast majority of those earning $150,000 or more at both hospitals were physicians.
The salary information for the VA region called VISN 8 was current as of June 24, the date of the FOIA request. The performance awards in some cases were for appraisals ending Sept. 30, 2013 and in other cases, on proficiency reviews performed annually on date of hire.
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Regardless of what it is called, performance pay for VA employees has been controversial.
Last fall, the Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Veterans Affairs' performance pay policy “has gaps in information needed to appropriately administer this type of pay.” The GAO found that the policy gives VA's 152 medical centers and 21 networks “discretion in setting
the goals providers must achieve to receive this pay, but does not specify an overarching purpose the goals are to support. VA officials responsible for writing the policy told us that the purpose of performance pay is to improve health care outcomes and quality, but this is not specified in the policy.”
The awards are “payable to individuals who make contributions in support of organizational goals and objectives,” said Mary Kay Hollingsworth, spokeswoman for VISN 8. “These contributions must be in excess of the performance of duties at the fully successful level. Awards must meet the requirements set out by federal regulation. Salary and awards cannot exceed the cap set by federal regulation. Monetary awards paid to VA employees require a written justification and approval by management prior to disbursement.”
The House Veterans Affairs Committee, which has been blistering the VA for its handling of patient health care, compensation claims backlog and other issues, points out that performance pay has been doled out elsewhere in the VA system despite festering problems.
“Despite the fact that multiple VA Inspector General reports have linked many VA patient care problems to widespread mismanagement within VA facilities and GAO findings that VA bonus pay has no clear link to performance, the department has consistently defended its celebration of executives who presided over these events, while giving them glowing performance reviews and cash bonuses of up to $63,000,” according to the committee's website.
The local hospitals have been the subject of scrutiny of late.
The Young center was among more than 110 VA medical centers across the nation flagged for further review as the result of an audit of wait times at VA medical facilities ordered by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki before he resigned in May. A report on the matter does not say why. And also in May, investigators from the VA's Office of Inspector General spent a week at Haley. In an interim report, Richard Griffin, acting VA inspector general, said that Rapid Response Teams have been sent to 42 VA facilities after allegations of patient deaths as the result of secret wait lists came to light in media reports. The report does not mention Haley. Local VA officials have said they don't know why the Young center was flagged for further review or why the inspectors visited Haley.
U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has cosponsored legislation that would halt some VA performance awards.
“We must ensure quality physicians have reason to practice at the VA, but we also must scrutinize the VA budget to eliminate the waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars,” he said in a statement to the Tribune. “I recently cosponsored legislation to freeze an estimated $800 million in senior staff bonuses and instead use that money to provide expanded care to veterans.”
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Local hospital administrators were in the middle of the pack when it comes to salaries, but at the top of the charts when it came to performance awards.
Haley Director Kathleen Fogarty earns $181,497 but received $8,985 in performance award money, the most by anyone at the hospital earning at least $100,000. Ed Cutolo, the hospital's chief of staff, was the highest earning administrator, with $282,738 in salary and $5,000 in performance awards. Deputy Director Roy Hawkins Jr. earned $126,359 in salary and $5,000 in performance awards. Associate Director David VanMeter earned $118,701 in salary and $3,000 in performance awards. Associate Director for Patient/Nursing Services Laureen Doloresco earned $149,472 in salary and $5,000 in performance awards and Assistant Director Susanne Tate earned $123,695 in salary and $5,000 in performance awards.
At the Young center, Director Suzanne Klinker earns $171,738 in salary and received $8,460 in annual performance awards — the most by any hospital employee earning at least $100,000. Chief of Staff Dominique A. Thuriere was the highest paid administrator at the Young center, earning $266,232 in salary and $2,678 in performance awards. Associate Director Kristine M. Brown earned $130,188 in salary and $2,578 in performance awards. Associate Director for Patient/Nursing Services Teresa Kumar earned $157,100 in salary and $3,101 in performance awards last year.
VISN 8 Director Joleen Clark, who earned $181,497 in salary and $8,985 in performance awards, Fogarty, Klinker and Cutolo were among the top VISN 8 award recipients as was Michela Zbogar, the VISN 8 chief medical officer who received $8,680 in performance awards on top of her $244,959 salary. As for medical center directors, Fogarty and Klinker earned about 25 percent less in performance awards than the directors of the Miami, West Palm Beach and Orlando VA hospitals.
Six of the seven top-paid administrators at both local hospitals were women. And all the compensation totals were lower than those at non-VA hospitals for similar positions, according to a 2013 Hays Healthcare Compensation Survey provided by VA officials.
Positions similar to VA hospital directors earn about $400,000 in total compensation, according to the Hays study, while chiefs of staff earn an average salary of $332,000, chief nursing officers an average compensation package of more than $256,000, deputy directors more than $380,000 in average total compensation and assistant directors more than $360,000 in total compensation, according to the Hays study.
The highest-paid employee at Haley is Ernesto Jimenez, a physician, who earned $375,000 in salary and $3,000 in performance awards. The highest-paid employee at the Young center is Bruce Kudryk, also a physician, who earned $349,343 in salary and $2,155 in performance awards.
Overall, nearly 4,000 VISN 8 employees earn at least $100,000 and of those, more than 1,720 received a total of nearly $3 million in performance awards. Across the system, more than 100 employees — all physicians — earn at least $300,000, according to the records.