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Three Rivers can’t afford Graham

J. Scott Graham isn’t yet a resident of Brewster and already he’s one of the highest paid public employees there.

Last week, Three Rivers Hospital commissioners voted to pay him $3,461.54 per week to be a temporary transition adviser. Just in case you think that’s a typo, let me say again — $3,461.54 per week for temporary work. That wage makes him among the richest 46 people in Brewster, assuming he ever moves to the city.

And that’s just the beginning. Next week, the board intends to offer him a full contract, with a base salary of $180,000 per year (the same rate of pay as his temporary position). And, of course, he’ll be offered a paid vacation and a very lucrative benefit plan with a buy-out clause, should board members or their future replacements decide they want to terminate the contract.

To add injury to taxpayer insult, Graham is being paid his temporary salary while current CEO O.E. “Bud” Hufnagel remains on the job, collecting a healthy compensation package of $175,000 annually — or $84.13 per hour, based on a 40-hour week.

You don’t have to be a financial whiz to know that’s a whole lot of money for a hospital that’s not financially solvent. And you don’t have to be a financial whiz to see how huge the pay discrepancy is between either Hufnagel or Graham and the residents paying their wages.

Let’s make a comparison between Graham’s salary and the wages paid to the median worker in Brewster.

At his salary, Graham is being paid $86.54 per hour. Meanwhile, the median wage paid to a Brewster resident is $9.57 per hour ($19,898 annually), according to federal government data. For reference, the state’s minimum wage is $9.32 per hour.

So let me get this straight: Workers making about 25 cents more than minimum wage could be paying the next hospital CEO more than nine times what they themselves earn. And hospital officials wonder why they have a large indigent care bill.

I know. Running a hospital takes a lot of education and training. It also takes time away from family and friends, and it requires being on call.

But does that truly justify a salary more than nine times higher than the people who live and work in Brewster? I think not.

Given the hospital’s financial track record, commissioners should be rethinking the salary and benefits package before considering any formal CEO contract offer to Graham, whose storied history at nearby Coulee Medical Center is already cause for concern in the hiring process.

Should commissioners go through with hiring Graham, then they should consider a pay-for-success performance plan.

If Graham is truly the man for the job, offer a base salary of, say, $100,000 — which is still more than five times others in Brewster are being paid — and a bonus plan to compensate him for making the hospital financially solvent.

And while they’re at it, they should require him to live inside the hospital district so he has to answer directly to residents paying his salary and the hospital’s bills.

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at rharnack@omakchronicle.com.

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