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With more than $1 million in pay, hospital chief leads list of California's top-paid public workers

The head of a San Diego County hospital who made over $1 million in total compensation in 2009 leads the list of top earners in state Controller John Chiang's growing government compensation database.

Palomar Pomerado Hospital Chief Executive Officer Michael Covert's pay is the highest out of thousands of special district employees covered so far in the database, which was launched last fall in response to the salary scandal in the city of Bell.

The database now includes compensation figures for all employees of California cities and counties and many of its special districts; it is scheduled to be completed later this year, when the final special districts will be added along with figures for state employees.

Covert, who has served as CEO since 2003, oversees close to 6,000 employees at the San Diego County hospital. In an interview Friday,  he noted that Chiang’s database didn’t take into account the various responsibilities of executives, and added that he wasn’t sure if each agency was reporting the figures the same way.

“You need to talk to a compensation firm in looking at all those,” he said. “That’s what our board does when they’re establishing wages and salaries.”

In addition to his 2009 base salary of $574,000,  Covert received a bonus of about $350,000, an auto allowance of $15,000 and a $93,000 contribution to his pension fund, according to hospital officials.

Covert said that he deferred to the hospital’s board of directors in determining wages and that he couldn’t say whether his pay was in line with others’ around the state. “I don’t really sit down and ask the other CEOs what they make,” he said.

Hospital officials strongly defended the total, however, saying that it was based on the analysis of an independent consultant.

“There's this notion that because you're a public agency you should hire less-talented people than private companies, and if we followed that idea, PPH would not be where it is today,” hospital spokesman Andy Hoang said. “We must compete for the best physicians, nurses and executives to provide the highest level of care. The community deserves that.”

Still, Covert’s pay stands out when compared to thousands of other employees in the state. He earned $162,000 more than the second-highest paid hospital executive, the CEO of the Washington Township Healthcare District in Fremont, and only four other special district executives made over $500,000 in 2009.

Besides Covert, the only other government employee to earn over $1 million in 2009 was Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo, whose total compensation totaled close to $1.2 million, according to the controller’s database. Rizzo and seven other Bell officials are awaiting trial on public corruption charges.

Here is a list of the highest-paid special district executives covered in the controller’s database so far:

Palomar Pomerado Hospital District chief executive officer: $1,035,709       
Washington Township Health Care District chief executive officer: $873,598     
Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital District president/chief executive officer: $790,975     
Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District general manager, $583,021     
Marin Healthcare District chief executive officer: $581,836     

--Sam Allen

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Comments () | Archives (84)

It's not the top leader that makes a great corporation. It's the rank and file workers that makes a good boss looks great. The CEO can't do anything if there are no good workers. I bet a lot of talented CEO are willing to take that jobs but those people are not friend of the board of Directors so nepotism plays hard on this. People are laid of left and right and most have loose their insurance while this greedy fake CEO prentend they are top. If thye are top, then everybody should not pay for insurance for thier healthcare.

Let's add some UC Medical Center salaries to this and watch them blow these out of the water.

Makes you wonder how much private Hospitals' CEOs make, doesn't it? Would it be impossible that the administrative team of a small hospital (CEO, CFO, CNO + a couple of others) would make $20 million a year between them?

What did he do to get a 350000 bonus? Did he reduce costs by 3500000?

This is how state goes bankrupt !
It is excessive !

Thanks L.A. Times for uncovering the city of BELL. "I don't sit around and ask other CEO's what they make." Really? C'mon, man.

How do you get an auto allowance with a base salary over 1/2 million? Geez!

I think this is the liberal democrat way of soaking the rich - there comes a point where these salaries and the pensions cannot be paid - then these same union and government workers start whining and carrying on. Someone needs to contact Nancy Pelosi and her husband about them paying their fair share - I wonder how long it will be before Nancy and Husband leave Californias working people holding the bag. This from a state that is ranking near last in school systems yet is paying millions - GO MOONBEAM.

These figures are meaningless until you tell us 1) population of their communities, 2) number of hospital beds, 3) median income in the community served, 4) is the hospital a level 1 Trauma center? Level 2?

I understand someone in Marin making a lot--although that has been a 'troubled' district due to alleged violations/problems. Surprisingly, I don't see San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose or Sacramento on these lists--each has at least one Level 1 Trauma center and large, 'mixed' (income) populations. Is it that these 'big city' civil servants are more 'civil' in their salary demands?

Mr. CEO wouldn't you like to explain your salary to the thousands of people who get denied medical care, are walking around mentally unstable (because they can't advocate for themselves) and wondering why nobody seems to care?

Public employees should not be getting bonuses. Period. And I say that as a public employee.

But then again, we seem to have no problem paying a high school grad 20 million a year to swing a bat or dunk a basketball....hmmm.....

and all the teabaggers are desperately trying to "save" this guy from paying taxes and make sure that the nurses who do all the work starve to death...

heck of a job, baggers.

One more reason we needed the Health Care Reform Act. Stop buying into the Republican spinjob.

Just a thought…Employees who make hundreds of thousands, or a million dollars a year, should fund their own retirements. Taxpayers should not foot the bill for high salaries, bonuses and retirement plans.

If you think that the leader doesn't matter, Joe, perhaps you could explain why it is that many businesses perform markedly better after a change in leadership? And why do companies put so much effort into choosing a new CEO?

The tone of this article feels biased and unfair. Nowhere are comparable private sector compensation packages disclosed. As well, the demeanor of the article implies that the tax paying public is being gouged and the author of the article is revealing this to the readers. I'm willing to bet that had comparative private sector salary compensation packages been disclosed, the salaries of our public sector employees as quoted in this article would pale in comparison to the grotesque salaries and compensation packages "earned" by their private sector counterparts.

Jerry, can only cut the elderly, the sick and the disabled.

no wonder . friend of mind wife allergic to grape she ate grape and use some medicine over counter,

went to hospital emergency room ,

one injecation and 15 minute later ,

3050 dollar cost or bill .

to pay this thives , union and crock ,

by the la time . in usa its freedom OF SPEECH YOU SHOULD PUBLISH MOST OF THE POST ,


This is not correct. The highest paid public employees in California are the football coaches at UC Berkeley and UCLA (Tedford and Howland) at over $2 million/year. After them comes a number of MDs at UC medical centers. The doctors make this money by treating patients, but the coaches are feeding at the public trough.

this guy makes more than the president of the united states. what's wrong with this picture?

The list leaves out the University of California and California State University. There are many within the system making more than $1 million a year. Many are couches and many work for University Hospitals but the list in long.

Why taxpayers have to subsidize institutions with payrolls like this is amazing and stupid.

$1 miilion in salary ! Meanwhile, most of us can not afford the premiums for health insurance or ........

In addition to his 2009 base salary of $574,000, Covert received a bonus of about $350,000, an auto allowance of $15,000 and a $93,000 contribution to his pension fund, according to hospital officials.

why an auto allowance of $15k ? Is $350 k salary not enough to pay cash for a car?

Folks would fall on their butts if they realized how much military "officers" are paid. While many of the regular enlisted scrubs need food stamps to feed their family, officers are living high on the hog.

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