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LBJ execs questioned about bonuses and fairness process

Gerstenberger: “I guess it depends on what you define as a bonus”
fili@samoanews.com

Following concerns from local constituents, some of whom work at the LBJ Medical Center, Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen this week questioned hospital officials over reports of bonuses paid out to contract workers for renewing their contracts; and had questions about the off-island recruitment of an information technology (IT) specialist for the hospital.

Faimealelei was the first to raise last week in the House chamber concerns over contract workers as well as pay hikes given to top executives of the hospital. During this week’s House Health/LBJ Hospital Committee hearing, Faimealelei asked hospital officials if workers on contracts are getting any bonuses for  renewing contracts.

He wanted an answer of just “yes” or “no”.

“I guess it depends on what you define as a bonus,” was the reply from LBJ chief executive officer Mike Gerstenberger.

The CEO said contract workers are not subject to annual increments and that “typically, when a contract comes up for renewal... we do adjust their salaries.”

Additionally the hospital conducts a review of the employee’s work performance and looks at the relevant need of that position “to ensure that we are competitive and we will retain that employee and not lose that employee.”

“So in some cases, we have made an adjustment to the salaries. But it’s a case by case basis,” said Gerstenberger.

Faimealelei told the committee that based on information he has received, some contracts were originally at $40,000, but when they were renewed, they were adjusted up to $60,000. He said this is one of the complaints from the community, and it seems unfair to local workers at LBJ.

“And that is one of the biggest concerns ...from employees of the hospital — the fairness of this [process],” he told the LBJ officials, which included board chairman Moananu Va and chief financial officer Viola Babcock.

Faimealelei then requested a complete report on all contract workers for LBJ and their salary levels. He said he is not trying to run the hospital but wants to understand the process and to be fair to his constituents.

The Aua lawmaker also questioned officials, asking if it’s true that they are looking for an IT person to which Babcock, replied “yes” and that person is on island for an interview.

Faimealelei followed up with another round of questions: when did this individual arrive on island and who is paying for the person to travel here? Babcock said the individual has been on island for almost a week and LBJ paid for the airline ticket.

So what happens if this person does not accept the job, but LBJ has already forked out money for the expense? Faimealelei asked.

“He (the IT person)  will accept it if we offer. We haven’t decided if we’ll offer,” was Babcock’s reply. “When we bring a candidate in, we’re pretty sure that’s going to happen and they’ve made a commitment. But we do ask them to come and spend some time on island.”

Faimealelei said the local person handling IT now will be leaving soon and a contract for an off-island IT specialist is going to cost the hospital more money.

Babcock explained the hospital is looking for a specialized IT person to work on several major projects including electronic patient and financial records. She also said LBJ needs someone with IT expertise to teach local staff to meet several deadlines, including those required by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare dealing with billing of Medicaid and Medicare — which provides 80% of the LBJ’s annual funding.

(Samoa News has previously reported that Gerstenberger says 80% of the LBJ’s annual funding, includes not only Medicaid and Medicare, but other federal funding, such as grants and the DOI allotment.)

She said the hospital advertised this position within the hospital as well as locally. However, Faimealelei did not appear satisfied with the reply.

“My concern is that we have ample people here on island, especially in information technology — they have master’s degrees,” Faimealelei told LBJ officials. He said LBJ is recruiting someone from off-island, “while we have a pool” of IT workers on island and locals should be given the opportunity. He also said it’s not going to be cost effective to the hospital in the long run to recruit an IT specialist from off-island.

However, Gerstenberger said the hospital needs a person with IT experience specializing in health care — a person who has worked in health care applications in hospital systems.



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