Executives behind the hospital lockout are paid a lot

In a full-page Dec. 1 advertisement titled "Setting the Record Straight," Lawrence + Memorial Hospital executives chose to report on the salaries of hospital nurses.

This was odd, since the dispute with the union representing nurses and technicians, which led to the hospital's current lockout of employees, has not focused on wages.

It was also strange because the reporting of nursing wages in the hospital ad, according to the union, was wrong, blatantly wrong.

In big type in the hospital's ad, it says the average pay for full-time registered nurses in 2013 was $100,473.

Why are they complaining, the ad seems to suggest, when they are making so much money. Indeed, the ad goes on to point out that the median household (the word household is in bold type) in New London is $45,509.

The first problem with the big salary reported for RNs is that it is only for nurses who work full-time, a minority at the hospital, where more RNs work part-time than full-time.

The more glaring and misleading alleged error, as identified by the union, is that the ad reports the $100,000 figure to be an average for full-time RNs.

It's not an average at all, according to union spokesman Matt O'Connor, who said the $100,000 in annual pay is what an RN at the very top pay scale, most senior in employment and training, would earn.

"What the ad essentially did was falsely paint a picture," said O'Connor. "They took the top step for individuals with the highest level of seniority and put it in the ad as if that is the norm. ... Actually it is an exception."

Hospital spokesman Michael O'Farrell said, when I told him about O'Connor's complaint, that the characterization of nurses' salaries was accurate.

"We stand by that number, as the average," he said.

The advertisement about nursing salaries also reminded me of the old adage about people in glass houses not throwing stones.

You would think that the highly compensated L+M executives, who have already frustrated the state's union-leaning political establishment, might worry about Connecticut taking up the initiative, growing in other states, to limit the compensation of executives of big nonprofits, especially rich hospitals.

In the interest of setting the record straight, and because they raised the topic of big pay, it is perhaps appropriate to report at least the very frothy top of the executive pay scale at L+M.

Bruce D. Cummings, hospital president and lockout manager in chief, was paid $761,734, including fringe benefits, in the 2012 fiscal year, according to hospital filings with the state. Chief Operating Officer Dan Rissi was paid $484,902. Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Lou Inzana was paid $431,7023, according to the filings.

The big salaries continue right down the line. According to the hospital's 2010 income tax return, only two of the 16 top earners at the hospital made total compensation of less than $200,000 a year.

The hospital, according to the compensation section of its 2010 return, even pays for William Stanley, vice president of development and community relations, to belong to the Thames Club in New London "as an appropriate setting for meetings with board members" and donors.

I wonder if the board members talk lockout strategy at the club.

It's true that L+M is not alone in paying executives big salaries. Cummings is not the highest-paid hospital executive even in Connecticut.

O'Farrell noted that Cummings' salary is set by the hospital board, in consultation with industry research on hospital administrator pay.

It's also true that union executives are not suffering when it comes to compensation.

Melodie Peters of Old Lyme, president of AFT Connecticut, the union now warring with L+M, was paid $128,722 in 2011, according to the union. Peters, a former state senator, began her own nursing career at L+M and remains a member of the local.

Still, you have to wonder which of those well-paid executives at the hospital decided it would be a good strategy to publicly suggest that the nurses they are locking out of their jobs, while the hospital spends a fortune to replace them, were making piles of money.

After all, it's hard to scapegoat a nurse.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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