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Fletcher Allen's mistakes continue

09/20/02 12:00AM By Allen Gilbert
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(Host) Missteps by Fletcher Allen Health Care continue, according to commentator Allen Gilbert.

(Gilbert) What don't the trustees of Fletcher Allen Health Care understand?

The revelation that CEO William Boettcher is leaving his post, and taking with him three-quarters of a million dollars in a retirement package, was seen as a fresh, new start for Fletcher Allen. Trustee Chair Philip Drumheller praised Boettcher's decision to leave, and defended the retirement package.

Sometimes things just don't feel like Vermont anymore. First we had charges of deception at Fletcher Allen that reminded everyone of Enron. Now we have a retirement package that reminds us of Jack Welch.

In case you've been trying to avoid national business stories and have missed the Jack Welch story: Welch is the General Electric CEO who recently retired. He left GE, after 21 years, with perks such as chauffeured cars and box seats at the Knicks. He's since given up some of the perks.

Boettcher was with Fletcher Allen just four years. His annual salary was over one-half million dollars. The three-quarters of a million-dollar retirement package is on top of that.

Trustees chair Philip Drumheller says the retirement package is a contractual obligation, and is fair for someone managing a health care operation such as Fletcher Allen. Maybe. But Drumheller has erred before, on the high side, when making wage and benefit comparisons. Earlier this summer Drumheller said that Boettcher's salary was in line with salaries of administrators at similar hospitals. But it turned out that Boettcher's salary was quite a bit higher than the annual median salary for hospital CEOs.

Let's put three quarters of a million dollars in perspective. The money has to come, ultimately, from hospital users. Fletcher Allen has 562 beds. Each of those beds must yield an additional $1,334 simply to fund Mr. Boettcher's retirement package.

We are being overwhelmed by health care problems. Families worry night and day about having benefits cut or losing coverage. Employers see premiums hemorrhaging their bottom lines. School board members stand before voters at Town Meeting and defend budgets that are driven higher and higher because of, among other things, health care costs. The state's Public Oversight Commission worked mightily to find a total of $3.5 million it could cut from hospital budgets statewide. $750,000 is not an inconsequential amount of money.

We'll pay it of course. It will be tucked into our premiums, or somewhere else in the two billion dollar-plus that we're currently spending on health care in Vermont. But is it right for an individual to walk away from a job after four years with three-quarters of a million dollars for his retirement? Three-quarters of a million dollars gathered from the circumstance of people getting sick and wanting to be well? Is a philanthropic organization such as a hospital supposed to run this way? Something's amiss. Fletcher Allen trustees are living in a different world than the rest of us. We're hurting out here.

This is Allen Gilbert.

Allen Gilbert of Worcester is a writer an parent who is active in education issues.

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