Recalling all dead patients

The most recent “sunshine list” shows that business is booming in Ontario health care, as eleven hospital CEOs made more than $600,000 last year.

Ontario’s “sunshine list” is released annually, and lists all public sector employees who earn more than $100,000 a year. More than 60,000 government, hospital, university and utility company employees are currently on that list.

Yet the salaries of these CEOs seem excessive when hospitals like the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa, struggled to balance their budget last year.

But some say that the use of public money to fund these high salaries is justified.

Tomi Nieminen, a senior consultant at the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), stated that hospitals are complex and difficult organizations to run, rather like car factories.

Nieminen stated though that the potential complications are greater in a hospital where human lives, and not machines, are in jeopardy daily.

“Do you really want the quality of your CEO to be less than $350,000? Unlike cars, you can’t recall dead patients,” Nieminen said.

Over the last five years, CEOs and board directors have displaced skilled medical professionals at the top of this ‘rich list’ at Ottawa hospitals like CHEO and the Queensway Carleton hospital.

In 2005 then-CEO Garry Cardiff for CHEO, was the fourth best-paid employee behind pathologists and geneticists, with a salary of over $233,000.

By 2009 current CEO, Michel Bilodeau, is placed first with a salary over $363,000.

That’s an average increase in salary of $26,000 a year.

A trained psychologist’s annual salary increased on average by $5,000 in comparison.

This highlights a trend of businessmen earning increasingly more than their skilled medical counterparts.

Bilodeau was not available for comment.

However Marie Belanger, CHEO’s Public Relations Officer, stated that Bilodeau’s “salary is based on his years of experience, his expertise in the field and is benchmarked against other CEO salaries in the region and the province for similar size hospital and budget.”

Belanger also said that the Ontario provincial government had frozen the salaries of public sector employees for the last two years.

Bilodeau is admittedly not the best-paid hospital CEO, earning $300,000 less than some of his counterparts.

A CHEO nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, recognized CEOs have a challenging job to do but they were unsure about the price tag that’s demanded.

“I understand that they had to make a competitive bid for someone who was qualified like Bilodeau,” the nurse stated.

“I don’t think something in the $100,000 – $200,000 range is excessive when you look at the work that they do, and look at other areas of industries and government where CEOs are also earning wages like that,” the nurse said. “But whether someone like Bilodeau should earn one and a half, two times or three times that amount is another question.”

But OHA’s Nieminen warned critics that the “sunshine list” figures should not be interpreted too literally.

He stated that some doctors on the list may only work at the hospital a few days a week, and bill other external work to the Ontario Health Insurance Program. This would actually result in a total salary higher than is publicly listed.

Nieminen also stated “many specialized physicians like ophthalmologists and cardiac surgeons, who can make millions a year, aren’t on the list as they ‘bill for service’ as private employees.”

“We should be running hospitals like business, and to do so you need good managers,” Nieminen stated. “You won’t get quality people for less money.”