By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4)– Denver City Councilman Chris Hinds said Friday that handing out millions of dollars in performance bonuses to Denver Health Medical Center administrators and executives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic was “disgraceful,” and that the money should be returned to benefit front-line health care workers at the hospital.

(credit: CBS)

“That there are certain executives that are receiving large bonuses of tens or sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars, that is not okay,” said Hinds, during a Facebook live statement.

“I’m really frustrated that we have public health administrators… that are taking tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars of bonuses… while working families are sacrificing themselves.”

Hinds said he learned of the performance bonuses from a CBS4 Investigation that aired Thursday night.

Chris Hinds (credit: CBS)

The report revealed that top DHMC executives and administrators received large bonuses this month, one week after front-line hospital workers were asked to voluntarily take leave without pay or reduce their hours as the hospital dealt with the financial downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The bonuses were for work performed in 2019 but are typically awarded in the first quarter of the following year.

On April 3, hospital CEO Robin Wittenstein emailed hospital staff asking them to voluntarily help save the hospital money or face mandatory cost cutting.

On April 10, the 2019 bonuses were deposited in the bank accounts of dozens of top level executives and administrators.

“We want to try to pay people fairly,” explained Wittenstein. ”Those incentives are what keeps people at the midpoint of the compensation range” when compared to colleagues around the country.

Many of the bonuses were in the 17% to 19% range with executives routinely being awarded bonuses between $50,000 to $100,000.

Hinds said the right thing to do would be for those executives to give the money back. He said he cut his office staff from three people to two this week which will help save the city money.

(credit: CBS)

But in an email from Wittenstein to hospital staff sent Friday morning, it appeared unlikely bonuses would be returned.

Wittenstein wrote, ”In the spirit of fairness, I have asked everyone at Denver Health to make a contribution that will help us sustain the organization during these challenging times. Everyone must make a contribution including all of the leadership team and me.”

Wittenstein, who received a $230,000 performance bonus on top of her $967,000 salary, said she was sacrificing by using her paid time off in lieu of regular salary, and she was waiving the accrual of paid time off for the next three months.

She asked her team to do the same in an email to them dated April 14. She said her executive team has all agreed to “giving back in some way,” with some taking unpaid furloughs, some waiving PTO and some making donations to the Denver Health Foundation.

But Hinds said all that falls short, “PTO days are not enough. We need actual dollars; we need bonuses to be returned to the community.”

Brian Maass

Comments (9)
  1. Beth Lindroos says:

    Thank you so much for your story on the absurd bonuses to Denver Health Execs. Is there an update?

    As a long-time Denver tax payer and former Denver Health manager, I would love to know if there’s been any change of heart and payback of actual money rather than inconsequential (and slap-in-the-face) waiver of PTO for a measly three months. Such a decision shows both poor leadership and short-sighted planning, when they’ll be begging Denver City Council for more budget dollars in a very short time.

    I proudly worked for Denver Health over 20 years, retiring in 2008 as a Health Administrator for the Correctional Care Dept. Like most of the employees there, I was committed to the mission of the safety net system that served all patients with equality and compassion. I am now ashamed at the greed shown by the leadership, both operational and financial.

    I am appalled at these bonuses, especially during this time of budget cuts and the extraordinary risks that the front line staff are taking. I still know several nurses who work on the Medial ICU floors. I know that folks who have been “furloughed” are hurting and having to go to our food banks. Denver Health should instead follow the example of Leprino Cheese in Ft. Lupton, where they are still paying employees who would be working except for the Covid, and are paying employees 65 and older to stay home. (today’s Denver Post story).

    I agree with Councilperson Chris Hinds that Public Hospital employees should not be paid what greedy for-profit hospital executives are paid. This is insane and I will work with Chris Hinds to bring Denver Health executive staff and its board of directors back in line with reality.

    Thank you, once again, for your continued service to our community. You’ve always been the best! Please feel free to quote me or contact me for any further comments.

    Beth Lindroos

  2. BC says:

    Sign this Petition to tell Denver Health Executives to Give Back the Bonuses!

  3. ZZ says:

    Kroger adds “hero bonus” to frontline workers’ pay during coronavirus outbreak.

    Some Denver Health employees have been working reduced hours, (from 40-20 hours a week) for at least a month. Mandatory furloughs and PTO have been in place for other departments for weeks.

    Non-medical employees were instructed to bring in products from home to disinfect work areas.

    Employees have been forced to use PTO or go unpaid pending COVID-19 test results even though considered “essential employees” working on patient care floors.

    Short Term Disability Payment Information

    Questions have arisen about the Short Term Disability benefits available to you through Denver Health. Benefit eligible employees (.5 FTE and above) are eligible for Short Term Disability benefits the first day of the month following date of hire. The Short Term Disability plan (the Plan) replaces a portion of your income when you are medically unable to work due to a non-job related illness or injury. The plan replaces 60% of your income or 70% of your income if you purchased the buy-up option. The benefits paid to you under this plan are not subject to income taxes. Additionally, your portion of your medical, dental and vision premiums are not taken from these benefit payments while you are disabled. As a result, the benefit payment you receive will be close to your pre-disability take home pay for your regularly scheduled work. Benefits under the Plan take effect on the 8th calendar day that you have missed work due to illness or injury. Employees who test positive for COVID-19 will receive 100% of their pre-disability earnings for the calendar week prior to the benefits starting. Employees who are out for any other reason will use either PTO or will go unpaid during the first week of disability.

  4. Karen says:

    I very much agree with Jonas’ comment. There salaries should be divided up among the employees on the front line. Who in their right mind authorized their salaries. How is it that they are making more than the Mayor and Governor? I am angry that these executives are trying to justify their salaries by saying that they are making concessions in other ways. They do not bring business into the hospital. It is a public health facility where people automatically come when they can’t afford to go anywhere else. How do these individuals sleep at night. I believe that the Mayor and/or Governor should open an investigation and these executives should be forced to return the bonuses and their salaries should be cut in half. Even lawyers that are partners in a law firm do not get paid this type of money, unless they are bringing in a lot of business. This so unacceptable!!!!!

  5. Jackie says:

    Please remember that Denver Health does a lot, a LOT, of very good things, past and present. Some very excellent medicine and services. The way they take care of– and the programs they have for –under-resourced patients and all patients, is truly amazing. I have nothing but respect for them. They turn people’s lives around every day. They are an important part of a healthcare system that needs our attention. And our respect. Let’s help them. We are all part of Denver’s Health.

    1. TM says:

      Jackie- Let’s be clear. Robin Wittenstein has never touched a single patient. She has never been involved in direct patient care. Please make sure to give credit where credit is due- to the countless Denver Health employees that have dedicated their lives to treating patients with difficult social situations. Do NOT give the credit to Robin and others making millions of dollars a year. Please direct your praise to the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workforce that are actually taking care of patients. Also, don’t forget that Robin and her exec team get to work from the safety of their homes while the Denver Health clinical workforce is risking their lives taking care of patients and getting a pay cut as a huge “thank you’ from Robin’s team!

  6. sammie1555 says:

    Ms Wittenstein… you should be ashamed of yourself. To EVEN compare you donation of “accrued time off” for 3 mos to asking your front line workers to take a cut in pay is a SLAP IN FACE of every one of your employees. You and your staff are a symbol of all that’s wrong with this country. You HAVE a chance to do what’s right… do it

  7. Jay Alenby says:

    It’s surprising that Chris Hinds does not realize that hospitals are profit centers and those involved in the upper management levels are always paid exorbitant bonuses. Especially the CEO. Greed is what makes capitalism work and despite what many like to believe, hospitals are as bad as any business when it comes being greedy.

  8. Jonas says:

    To whom is the upper management of Denver Health responsible. Here is a recommendation: First, immediately fire CEO Robin Wittenstein and the three other top paid executives. Then take not just the bonuses but also the base salaries and divide those dollars up among the hospital workers (who were asked to take a cut in pay!) with the majority of the dollars going to the lowest paid employees. Then, over time, find some executives who have a sense of empathy. These executives are a disgrace to the hospital, to health care, and to the employees of this fine hospital. There is no excuse for keeping them employed as all the employees, and the public in general, have lost all faith in this team.

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