Hospital salary cap passes narrowly
El Camino officials tight-lipped on response to Measure M
Many upper level administrators at El Camino Hospital may be dusting off their resumes this morning, while the health care organization's legal team begins working to see how to respond after the passage of the controversial Measure M — which caps pay at the local health care organization at twice that of the California governor.
After all was said and done, 24,650 votes (51.91 percent) had been tallied in favor of the Measure, while 22,833 (48.09 percent) had been cast in opposition.
"We're thrilled Measure M passed, because we think that hospital administrators don't need to be making a million dollars a year, when the governor of the entire state of California makes nowhere near that much and he runs a much bigger operation," said Stacey Hendler Ross, communications director for the South Bay Labor Council, an arm of the AFL-CIO.
The CEO and many upper-management officials working for El Camino Hospital could see their paychecks greatly reduced under Measure M — that is, of course, if the measure is legal.
Top El Camino officials have remained somewhat vague about what they would do in this situation, but many have hinted that they aren't so sure the measure is legal. They have been unequivocal on one item, however — they do not support the measure.
"Based on what we currently know, we are disappointed that Measure M passed," Chris Ernst, a spokeswoman for El Camino, said in an email to the Voice. "However at this point, it would be too early to comment on the impact or our next steps as the vote has not yet been certified by the Registrar's office."
While all 108 precincts in the hospital district had reported vote totals by Wednesday morning, there may still be some provisional or absentee ballots left to count.
The measure's supporters say that the salary packages currently paid to hospital's top administrators are egregiously high.
The hospital's board members — and some of the candidates for the board — have either defended the salaries as being in line with the market, or said that the measure would drive away top talent, or both. And Ernst has maintained that the measure would greatly hinder the hospital on many levels.
Gov. Jerry Brown currently makes $173,987 annually. Twice his salary, $347,974, is still less than half of El Camino CEO Tomi Ryba's proposed 2013 salary of $714,460. The hospital's chief administrative services officer, Ken King, and its chief medical officer, Dr. Eric Pifer, also make more than twice the governor's salary, at $420,000 and $450,000 respectively.
If some of those top hospital administrators saw their salaries greatly reduced, they might begin looking for work elsewhere, Ernst and others warned — adding that they would be very difficult to replace with others equal ability.
Supporters of the measure have balked at that argument, saying that the high salaries paid to CEOs has gotten out of hand and that there is no need for anyone to make that kind of money — especially if the lowest level workers in the organization are barely making enough money to keep a roof over their heads, feed their families and protect them with a decent health plan.
"It's not that we want administrators of hospitals to make less money," Ross said. "It's just that we want the workers of those hospitals to have reasonable salaries. It's really outrageous that they can afford to make millionaires out of their hospital administrators, yet they can't afford to give their lowest wage workers a raise or better benefits."
In reply to such arguments, hospital officials have remained steadfast, maintaining that they are merely paying what the market dictates.
As far as the next step for the hospital goes, Ernst wrote, "We will continue to watch the vote as it goes through the certification process. In the meantime, our hospital's executive team remains committed and focused on providing quality care to our patients."