Bonuses Paid to OHSU President Joe Robertson Called Into Question

A constituent is asking Governor Kate Brown’s office to get involved.

Les Ruark, a wheat and alfalfa farmer in eastern Oregon who spent years at the State Capitol as a Senate aide, has taken on a gargantuan task – he’s questioning the bonuses paid to top executives at Oregon Health & Science University.

He wants Governor Brown to ask OHSU’s board of directors to reconsider its approval of these bonus payments. The governor is responsible for appointing those board members.

Ruark learned about the bonuses from an article in the Portland Tribune, which said OHSU’s president, Dr. Joe Robertson, earned a bonus of $96,447 on top of his yearly salary of more than $1 million and also earned $150,000 for clinical services he provided in his role as a physician, for being a doctor. Robertson also was paid $50,000 for finalizing a deal with Salem Health and received another $100,000 for his success in reaching the $500 million Knight Challenge grant.

“Payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses to the leaders of Oregon Health & Science University on top of the six and seven-figure salaries, other incentive pay, and lucrative pension benefits they already receive for actually fulfilling their responsibility, depicts an inappropriate and unacceptable occurrence at the top echelon of OHSU,” according to Ruark.

He shared his memorandum with Lindsay Capps, the governor’s education advisor, and Ben Cannon, who heads the Higher Education Commission. When asked for a response, the governor’s office said it’s reviewing the letter, according to Melissa Navas, communications officer.

Ruark also called into question the legislative intent behind the separation of OHSU from the state’s university system. “It does exemplify, however, some of what’s wrong with having made OHSU the stand-alone “no-strings-attached” public corporation it is—and certainly highlights aspects of the separation which ought to be changed soon,” he wrote. “Short of that, President Robertson needs to rescind his acceptance of the payments he’s received, direct that the dollars involved be forwarded instead to actual line-item programs within the University’s budget, and ask that the members of his leadership team follow suit with their bonuses.

“Over the longer term, the Governor needs to ask the Oregon Legislature to revisit its 1995 decision-making and put in place the judicious constraints that are needed here—ones which apparently the University’s board of directors has, quite disconcertingly, chosen not to put in place. These would include a) developing a stronger code of financial transparency to govern the board’s financial and investment policy-making and b) establishing a more all-inclusive means of adhering to the state’s public records and meetings statutes, providing particularly for the immediate enhancement of the public's accessibility to the work of both the board and the University's executive leadership,” he added.

When asked for a comment, Robertson told The Lund Report that his compensation reflected industry standards, and he didn’t appear concerned about the governor taking action. “Multiple opinions are all weighed carefully and considered,” he said.

OHSU’s media spokesperson Tamara Hargens-Bradley also shared the following statement about the concerns raised by Ruark

"OHSU’s change in governance structure from a state agency to a public corporation in 1995 has enabled it to grow and expand its services significantly, benefitting both patients and students. Today OHSU educates nearly 1,100 more students, treats more than double the number of patients and brings in $290 million more in research grants than it did 20 years ago. Key to OHSU’s success has been its flexibility to make strategic decisions and prudent investments while maintaining its public missions and state oversight.

“OHSU is responsible for funding health care operations and strategy from its patient care revenues, including investments in health care programs, facilities, technology, partnerships and new capacities (such as population health management). In fact, the success of OHSU’s health care enterprise helps support OHSU’s research and education missions.

“In the Oregon health care market, OHSU both collaborates and competes with other large health care systems, such as Providence, Kaiser and Legacy, each of which have or are building health plan components and capacities. Being a public corporation allows OHSU to be successful in the marketplace, ensuring that Oregonians have access to the distinct services of the state’s only academic health center.

“Fundamental to OHSU’s long-term success is the recruitment and retention of a strong, experienced leadership team. To ensure compensation packages are sufficient to attract and retain exceptional talent, OHSU engages a third-party vendor to conduct market research, comparing its compensation program and incentive plans with those of peer academic health centers and the broader health care industry.

“Executive compensation at OHSU includes base salary and a portion of compensation that is dependent on performance and is at risk. These performance-dependent payments are awarded only when specific success metrics are exceeded. When the target is exceeded, participants can receive up to an additional 15 percent to 25 percent of base salary. OHSU executive leaders receive the same retirement, health and welfare benefits and contributions that OHSU unclassified employees receive.

“OHSU is governed by a 10-member board of directors. Nine members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Oregon State Senate. The OHSU president serves on the board throughout his or her presidency."

Diane can be reached at [email protected].

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