Governor’s Office Has No Authority over Bonuses Paid to OHSU Execs

Les Ruark, who brought forward the issue, would like the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Council, to have a seat on OHSU’s board.

The bonuses paid to OHSU’s top-paying executives including President Joe Robertson are not the purview of Governor Brown’s office. Those decisions rest with the Oregon Health & Science University board, which is appointed by the Governor.

That message, conveyed by Lindsey Capps, the governor’s acting chief education officer, came as no surprise to Les Ruark, who raised the issue after learning that Robertson earned a bonus of $96,447 on top of his $1 million salary last year. He 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,” said Ruark, a wheat and alfalfa farmer in Eastern Oregon who worked as a legislative aide during the 1970s.

Ruark contends the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Council should have a seat on OHSU’s board of directors to oversee what’s going on, and that either the Legislature or the Governor should make that happen.

“OHSU needs to do a better job of adhering to the state’s public records and meetings statutes,” he told Capps. "A liaison relationship would re-establish a natural fit with the state's role of ensuring optimum coordination of higher education,” he suggested. “It won’t be surprising, though, to learn next that OHSU has already, behind the scenes, dispatched its public affairs team to this front to advocate otherwise.”

OHSU’s entry into the insurance marketplace, by joining forces with Moda Health, also concerns Ruark. Under this arrangement, OHSU will forego its $50 million surplus note and have a 25 percent ownership in Moda.

“Was that the Legislature’s intent when they passed a law separating OHSU from the Oregon University System?” he asked. . .

Yet Ruark realizes legislators are likely to look the other way, given the “high-paid lobbyists in Salem likely already out and about seeking to draw the wagons around OHSU and its many entrenched interests, at the slightest sign of someone rocking the boat," he said. 

OHSU’s Response

Ruark also took issue with remarks from OHSU’s public relations department, which responded earlier to his concerns, telling The Lund Report:

“Setting aside for a moment the bonuses issue, the University’s response chiefly sidesteps the two bottom line concerns I wrote about: a) the more recent actual course the University certainly appears to be charting since its separation from the oversight of the state’s higher education system and b) the lack of transparency involved with this.

“The response for instance doesn’t address OHSU having issued little if any actual notice of its board of directors' consideration and approval of loaning Moda Health $50 million, let alone why there was, at the time, no record made of this action; nor does it address why the University has continued to handle subsequent actions involving Moda pretty much behind not only closed doors but politically entrenched corridors as well.

“Much more importantly, however, the University’s response doesn't address why there is apparently no OHSU-developed set of standards or criteria for governing how its board initiates, considers, decides, executes, and monitors such matters as the Moda loan—and a process for considering public comment on this criteria before it’s adopted.

“You’d think that development of these kinds of appropriate constraints would have occurred first before OHSU’s board embarked on such a precedent-setting new frontier of quasi-becoming (or operating on behalf of) a major health insurer—or otherwise becoming, as many are beginning to see the University as," a house of financiers"

“Moreover, the University’s response makes no mention of the lack of public and ready access to agenda support material for its board of directors meetings, including draft minutes (once they’ve been disseminated in that form to the board); nor does it mention the limited and obviously controlled website/email access to either the board staff or University leaders.

“Nonetheless, until the issues I’ve raised are addressed, and in the open, OHSU’s slow but progressive march to becoming an institution of health insurers and financiers, at the cost (potentially, at least) of seriously impacting its core educational mission of instruction and research, will only continue to highlight just how far off course the University has swayed from the initial reasoning behind its 1995 spinoff as a stand-alone educational institution among Oregon’s higher education community—in spite of the University’s evolving effort to depict a different status.

“The University’s response, as I see it, exemplifies exactly why there is a need to revisit the 1995 decision-making, establish a HECC liaison member-position on OHSU’s board, and, especially, somehow provide for ensuring OHSU's true adherence to the state’s public records and meetings statutes.”

Diane can be reached at [email protected].

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