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Denver Councilman Calls Hospital Bonuses 'Disgraceful'

DENVER (CBS4)- Denver City Councilman Chris Hinds said Friday that handing out millions of dollars in performance bonuses to Denver Health Medical Center administrators and executives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic was "disgraceful," and that the money should be returned to benefit front-line health care workers at the hospital.

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(credit: CBS)

"That there are certain executives that are receiving large bonuses of tens or sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars, that is not okay," said Hinds, during a Facebook live statement.

"I'm really frustrated that we have public health administrators… that are taking tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars of bonuses… while working families are sacrificing themselves."

Hinds said he learned of the performance bonuses from a CBS4 Investigation that aired Thursday night.

Chris Hinds (credit: CBS)

The report revealed that top DHMC executives and administrators received large bonuses this month, one week after front-line hospital workers were asked to voluntarily take leave without pay or reduce their hours as the hospital dealt with the financial downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The bonuses were for work performed in 2019 but are typically awarded in the first quarter of the following year.

On April 3, hospital CEO Robin Wittenstein emailed hospital staff asking them to voluntarily help save the hospital money or face mandatory cost cutting.

On April 10, the 2019 bonuses were deposited in the bank accounts of dozens of top level executives and administrators.

"We want to try to pay people fairly," explained Wittenstein. "Those incentives are what keeps people at the midpoint of the compensation range" when compared to colleagues around the country.

Many of the bonuses were in the 17% to 19% range with executives routinely being awarded bonuses between $50,000 to $100,000.

Hinds said the right thing to do would be for those executives to give the money back. He said he cut his office staff from three people to two this week which will help save the city money.

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Robin Wittenstein (credit: CBS)

But in an email from Wittenstein to hospital staff sent Friday morning, it appeared unlikely bonuses would be returned.

Wittenstein wrote, "In the spirit of fairness, I have asked everyone at Denver Health to make a contribution that will help us sustain the organization during these challenging times. Everyone must make a contribution including all of the leadership team and me."

Wittenstein, who received a $230,000 performance bonus on top of her $967,000 salary, said she was sacrificing by using her paid time off in lieu of regular salary, and she was waiving the accrual of paid time off for the next three months.

She asked her team to do the same in an email to them dated April 14. She said her executive team has all agreed to "giving back in some way," with some taking unpaid furloughs, some waiving PTO and some making donations to the Denver Health Foundation.

But Hinds said all that falls short, "PTO days are not enough. We need actual dollars; we need bonuses to be returned to the community."

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