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Denver healthcare CEO apologizes for 6-digit bonuses doled out to execs while staff pay is cut

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Irate workers at Denver Health Medical Center in Colorado demanded executives return ill-timed bonuses that were handed out a week after cuts to staff pay and hours.

Medical Center CEO Robin Wittenstein issued an apology on Monday but there was no indication the funds would be returned as one executive noted that the board still supports the leadership compensation structure that handed out Management Incentive Plan bonuses earlier this month ranging from $50,000 up to $230,000, CBS4 reported.


(Source: CBS4)

“Being informed of incentive payments now to the executive staff, no matter what the explanation,” Wittenstein wrote in an email, “has clearly been painful and dividing, especially because you did not hear about this from me directly first. For this, I am deeply sorry.”

Front-line workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic at the hospital were informed at the beginning of the month that the hospital’s financial state required them to lay off some workers as well as reduce the pay rates and hours for others. The workers were asked to use up their personal time or take time off without pay in order to stretch the facility’s finances.

However, a week after the grim directive, about 150 hospital executives and managers were handed bonuses for their work in 2019, CBS4 reported. Workers being asked to make deep sacrifices in the wake of the coronavirus crisis found out about the payments through a CBS4 report and were left angered and frustrated.

Thousands signed a petition demanding the bonuses be given back.

“I’m really frustrated that we have public health administrators that are taking tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars of bonuses for executives while working families are sacrificing themselves,” Denver City Councilman Chris Hinds said during a Facebook live statement last week.

Hinds called the move “disgraceful” and said the money should be returned to help the front-line health care workers at the hospital.

Wittenstein explained in her email on Monday that payments were “not a bonus in the common understanding of the term” but acknowledged that the timing of disbursements “has caused you hurt and anger.”

The CEO told the news outlet that she was taking the equivalent of a 30% salary reduction by waiving the accrual of any additional personal time off and she planned to use personal time off in each pay period for three months. Wittenstein reportedly promised to donate $100,000 to the Denver Health Foundation a few months ago in order to help employees.

According to CBS4:

Documents show Wittenstein received a bonus of $230,000 this month added onto her salary of $967,000. Wittenstein also said her executive staff was reducing hours and pay by 12%, contributing over $550,000 in salary back to the hospital and donating $386,000 to the Denver Health Foundation for an employee relief fund.

 

“I know these answers will not heal all the raw emotion and wounds that were created,” she wrote. “It is deeply hurtful to me to think that we have, at this critical moment, experienced such a situation. Again, I am truly sorry for the anger, frustration and pain it caused each of you and hope you accept my apology.”

The Board Chair for the Denver Health and Hospital Authority also addressed upset employees in an email on Monday.

“All of us on the board regret that the timing of the 2019 incentive payments has created anger and resentment, and we understand how troubling news of these payments can be at such a time as this,” Anne Warhover wrote.

Again, there were no indications that any of the bonuses would be returned or that lower-paid employees would be compensated in some form.

Frieda Powers

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