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Executive Bonuses Suspended At Denver Health

DENVER (CBS4)- The board overseeing Denver Health has suspended a controversial executive bonus program that sparked widespread criticism when it was revealed in a CBS4 Investigation last April. In a message to employees last month, Denver Health notified employees that its Board of Directors "has decided to suspend the at-risk management incentive program."

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The statement went on, "The Board will take up consideration as to an appropriate structure for our senior management compensation program at a later point in time. We remain fully committed to competitive and equitable compensation of all Denver Health employees."

RELATED: Denver Health CEO On Timing Of Bonuses: 'I Am Deeply Sorry'

The bonus incentive program drew intense anger from hospital employees and politicians last spring after CBS4 reported hospital executives received bonuses ranging from $50,000 up to $230,000 in 2020, one week after frontline 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.

After asking employees to tighten their belts, more than 100 hospital executive staff members received their Management Incentive Plan bonuses for their 2019 performance. Highly compensated hospital executives received bonuses that sometimes amounted to nearly 20% of their annual salary.

Among them:

  • The hospital CEO received a bonus of $230,275
  • The hospital Chief Human Resources Officer was awarded a $65,012 bonus
  • The hospital's attorney received a $78,174. bonus

All told, about 140 hospital executives were awarded over $3 million in bonuses for their 2019 performance.

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Hospital CEO Robin Wittenstein defended the bonuses at the time saying they were simply a component of salary and not actual bonuses, but she conceded, "The timing of the payments was terrible."

She said the bonuses kept executives at the midpoint of the compensation range for similarly situated hospital administrators.

Chris Hinds, a Denver city councilman who was critical of the bonuses, reacted to the suspension of the program, "While the corporate world often aligns portions of executive compensation with the success of that organization, our public health is too important to rely on corporate incentive models."

Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca also welcomed the suspension of the bonus program, "I think it was a reasonable and necessary response to the employee and public outcries that catalyzed heavier scrutiny about Denver Health's inequitable pay practices. I hope that this is an indicator to the public that when we pay attention, we have the power to stand in solidarity with workers to hold employers accountable."

Asked about the suspension of the bonus program, a Denver Health spokesperson referred to the written statement issued last month. The statement also noted that in 2021, eligible employees will get a 2% merit increase on their annual anniversaries which is no longer tied to their annual performance evaluations. Also effective this month, any worker at the top of their salary range will receive a lump sum payment equal to a 2% merit increase.

Denver Health
(credit: CBS)

After the initial uproar in 2020 over the bonuses, executive staff members voluntarily gave back in the form of waiving accrued personal time, taking unpaid time off or in some cases, making cash donations to the Denver Health Foundation.

Denver Health has about 7,000 employees.

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