Reporting from San Francisco — The University of California regents Thursday approved the controversial payment of $3.1 million in performance bonuses to 38 senior executives at UC's five medical centers.
The regents emphasized that the payments were linked to improved patient health and stronger hospital finances and said they were important tools to attract and retain talent. They said the bonuses were part of a 16-year-old plan funded by hospital revenue, not state funds or student fees. An additional $33.7 million is distributed among 22,000 lower-ranking medical employees.
However, union activists denounced the executive bonuses as unconscionable as other parts of the university were coping with pay cuts and layoffs.
"This is appalling to do this when they are telling the lowest-paid workers to stay in poverty," said Lakesha Harrison, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents about 20,000 UC workers, including hospital technicians and campus custodians.
Some of the union's members get bonuses of about $300 a year, Harrison said. In contrast, the payments to the 38 senior managers range from about $30,100 to nearly $219,000.
The incentives were awarded after the UC medical center system met such targets as reducing catheter-related infections and saving money through group purchases of supplies, officials said.
Among the payments approved Thursday by the regents in San Francisco were $218,728 to UCLA Medical Center Chief Executive David Feinberg, on top of his $739,695 base salary; $181,227 to UC San Francisco medical center Chief Executive Mark Laret, on top of $739,700 in pay; and $87,000, in addition to his $580,000 salary, for John Stobo, the UC system's senior vice president for health sciences.
Regent Sherry Lansing said she supported the payments as a way to help maintain the quality of UC hospitals. "Even though these are difficult economic times, we have an obligation to find a way to protect the whole university and obviously the hospitals," she said.
Regent Charlene Zettel abstained from the incentives vote, which was passed by all other regents. Zettel said there were too many uncertainties about healthcare economics now and said she found the bonuses questionable at a time of pay cuts and layoffs for many state and private workers.