Hospital board challenges Measure M in court

Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo

El Camino Hospital officials say patient care quality may deteriorate if Measure M, an executive pay cap, stands.

The fight over appropriate levels of hospital executive compensation appears to be far from over.

El Camino Hospital announced in a statement Nov. 20 that its board of directors has authorized its legal team to file a lawsuit challenging the validity of Measure M, calling it “illegal” and “an abuse of the initiative process.”

The announcement came on the heels of a hospital board meeting Nov. 14. District voters narrowly approved the measure on Election Day, with 51.47 percent of the vote (35,044). The measure was ahead by 2,001 votes as of Nov. 21, according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, with approximately 9,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted.

According to the hospital’s statement, the lawsuit will likely be filed in mid-December. Pending the lawsuit’s outcome, the statement noted, “the hospital board will continue to compensate its executives under their current employment contracts.”

“The hospital board stands firmly behind its executive team, which has the experience required to deliver the level of health care that this community receives, expects and deserves,” the statement added.

Measure M would cap El Camino Hospital executive pay at no more than double the salary of California’s governor. Gov. Jerry Brown is slated to earn approximately $165,000 this year. The measure affects nine hospital executives, including CEO Tomi Ryba, who earns an annual base salary of $695,000.

The measure was placed on the Nov. 6 ballot after the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) conducted an extensive signature-gathering campaign in February, collecting approximately 13,000 district residents’ signatures.

Supporters of the measure argued that it would assist in holding the hospital accountable for managing its funds in a transparent manner. The hospital receives a portion of property-tax dollars from district residents annually.

Emails to SEIU-UHW officials seeking comment on the hospital board’s decision were not returned by the Town Crier’s press deadline.

The county registrar certified the signatures in April, leaving the hospital’s district board with the choice of adopting the initiative or placing it before voters. The board voted unanimously to place the measure on the November ballot.

Hospital officials previously noted that the hospital compensates at the 50th percentile of national health systems and similarly sized hospitals. Compensation is also adjusted for the local cost of living, according to the released statement.

In addition, hospital officials pointed to an impartial analysis by County Counsel in the measure’s ballot language that questioned its legality.

“The hospital board also believes that, if allowed to stand, Measure M could significantly diminish the hospital’s ability to attract and retain the talent needed to manage a complex, award-winning, nonprofit hospital,” the statement read. “A less experienced management team may not have the expertise required to ensure the hospital can provide high-quality care to patients in a rapidly changing health care environment.”

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