By Jeff McDonald
Saturday, September 18, 2010 at 5:48 p.m.
Palomar Pomerado Health
Overall 2010-11 Budget: $480 million
Population Served: 541,000
Chief Executive Michael Covert
Base Salary: $736,008
Total Compensation: $1,114,490
Paid Days Off: 38
Tri-City Healthcare District
Overall 2010-11 Budget: $349 million
Population Served: 500,000
Chief Executive Larry Anderson Base Salary: $480,000
Total Compensation: $625,593*
Paid Days Off: 30
*Excludes $50,000 relocation benefit
Grossmont Healthcare District
Overall 2010-11 Budget: $31.2 million
Population Served: 500,000
Chief Executive Barry Jantz Base Salary: $183,150
Total Compensation: $249,049
Paid Days Off: 41
Fallbrook Healthcare District
Overall 2010-11 Budget: $1.6 million
Population Served: 57,000
Chief Executive Vi Dupre Base Salary: $61,000
Total Compensation: $69,051
Paid Days Off: 31
The top official at Palomar Pomerado Health, a public agency serving health-care needs in Poway and Escondido, receives in excess of $1 million in compensation per year.
Michael Covert, who has run the North County hospital district since 2003, receives a base salary of $736,000 a year. Retirement, bonuses and other benefits push Covert’s total pay past $1.1 million.
The compensation package is in the median range of his private and nonprofit counterparts and places Covert among the elite among public employees.
Covert, who oversees a $480 million budget and approximately 4,000 employees, did not return messages seeking comment about his salary and benefits package.
Bruce Krider, the health-care district chairman, said Covert does an excellent job managing a complex enterprise that includes two major hospitals. Covert juggles the interests of staff, physicians, patients, volunteers, board members and other stakeholders, he said.
“A million dollars sounds pretty good to anybody, but my view is, pay a lot and expect a lot,” said Krider, a management consultant who also is a former hospital executive. “You can’t have some mediocre public servant. You need somebody that has got vision, that can see the issues that are most important and put it all together.”
The Watchdog has been reviewing salaries of public officials across San Diego County since it was revealed this summer that the city manager of the small city of Bell near Los Angeles was paid nearly $800,000 a year.
Earlier reports examining pay packages of public-sector executives in San Diego County showed San Marcos City Manager Paul Malone was the best compensated in his field at just over $408,000 a year and Metropolitan Transit System chief Paul Jablonski was the top-paid transportation official at $414,000 a year.
In this installment, The Watchdog reviewed the salary and benefits for administrators of the county’s four public health-care districts. Two of the four perform the complex duty of running medical centers — Palomar and Tri-City in Oceanside.
Tri-City chief executive Larry Anderson collects a base salary of $480,000 and benefits that drive his total compensation past $625,000 a year. He also received a $50,000 relocation benefit when he arrived last year.
Anderson said public hospitals are unlike other government enterprises because they derive the majority of their revenue from sources other than taxpayers within their district.
The Tri-City Healthcare District collects about $7.5 million a year from property owners in Oceanside, Carlsbad and Vista — under 2 percent of its $368 million annual budget.
Anderson also said hospitals in California are regulated by 55 separate agencies, which creates an intricate web of relationships that must be properly managed.
“It’s very dangerous to have an untested person at the helm of a business like this,” he said. “You can win on that process, but you won’t win every time.”
San Diego County’s two remaining health-care districts — Grossmont and Fallbrook — operated hospitals for decades until the 1990s, when soaring costs prompted their boards to lease the medical centers to outside groups.
Fallbrook Hospital is now operated by Community Health Systems, a for-profit company based in Tennessee. Grossmont Hospital is run by the nonprofit Sharp Healthcare.
The two public agencies continue to collect tax revenue every year and grant some of those funds to health-related causes.
Grossmont Healthcare District uses its tax revenue to award about $2.5 million a year in grants and to oversee the long-term lease. Also, it manages ongoing construction projects financed by a bond approved by voters in 2006.
Grossmont chief executive Barry Jantz makes about $183,000 a year in base pay and benefits that increase his total compensation to just under $250,000 a year.
“I’m managing $247 million in capital improvements at Grossmont Hospital, in addition to being the administrator at Grossmont Healthcare District,” he said. “The reason for the public agency to continue to is protect the public asset.”
The Fallbrook Healthcare District collects about $1.5 million a year in taxes from area property owners and awards about $500,000 in grants.
The district maintains a reserve fund of more than $9 million — better than six years’ worth of tax revenue. Board members say the huge reserves are needed in case they need to take over the hospital.
Fallbrook administrator Vi Dupre, who is paid a base salary of $61,000 a year and benefits that raise her compensation to just over $69,000, said she was not bothered by how much other public health-care executives are paid.
“Doesn’t everybody think they should be earning more?” Dupre asked. “If I really objected, I would take it to my board and make a request. I am treated with regard and respect, which is worth a great deal.”
About half the 3.1 million residents of San Diego County are served by public health-care districts, agencies created decades ago to deliver medical services to the then-rural communities.
Now patients are also served by a network of private and nonprofit medical centers, some of which pay their leaders more than Covert receives.
Scripps Health chief executive Chris Van Gorder, for example, received $1.7 million in salary and benefits in 2008, according to the charity’s most recent tax filing. He oversees almost $2 billion in spending, four times the budget overseen by Covert at Palomar.
Timothy Smith of Sharp Memorial Hospital supervises $670 million in revenue and was paid $486,860, according to that organization’s latest tax record.
Kathleen Sellick of Rady Children’s Hospital collected $1 million in 2009 to run a center with $515 million in revenue.
Thomas Jackiewicz of UCSD Medical Center gets $600,000, counting only base pay, to manage a budget of $812 million. A spokeswoman was unable to immediately provide the UCSD chief’s total compensation.