A generous new benefits package recently awarded by the Fairfax Hospital Association to its top 35 administrators has enraged the country Board of Supervisors and has rekindled supervisors' desire for more public scrutiny of the private, non-profit association.
"I think the action is completely out of line," said Supervisor Audrey Moore, denouncing the group's decision to award a 20 percent increase in retirement benefits to its top executives. "We are supposed to be representing the taxpayers and we don't know what's going on over there or even how how much these administrators make."
Peggy P. Pond, spokeswoman for the association, which runs Fairfax County's three major hospitals, disputed Moore's characterization of the increase and said it will have a minimal impact on patients, who will pay for the increase. She estimated that patient fees will increase only about a penny a day if all eligible employes choose to participate in the benefits plan.
"I think the increase was justified," said Pond. "It will enable us to be in a better position to recruit and retain capable executives to operate our system."
The new plan, which will give the executives $104,000 in increased retirement benefits, was approved in August by the association's 15-member executive committee.
Under the plan, the association will match contributions certain executives make to tax-sheltered annuities. The association president and seven vice presidents are eligible to put as much as to 10 percent of their annual incomes into the annuity and the other executives can contribute a total of 5 percent of their incomes to the fund.
While approval of the package has county supervisors -- three of whom serve on the 30-member association board of trustees -- up in arms, they concede they have little control over the association, with whom they have been feuding for the past two years.
The feud centers on the question of whether the supervisors can exercise any oversight over the health-care facilities the county helped pay to build for the association. Two years ago, the supervisors tried and failed to get the association to publicly release its annual budget. More recently, supervisors have quarreled over whether the association should set up profit-making corporations or open to the public a cafeteria at one of its headquarters.
Several supervisors argue that the county government should be more involved in hospital operations since county taxpayers pay about $3 million annually in debt service on bonds used to build Mount Vernon Hospital, off Rte. 1 in Hybla Valley, and the ACCESS emergency care unit in Reston. The association also operates Fairfax Hospital on Gallows Road and Commonwealth Hospital in Fairfax City.
"Frankly, on this issue, the public has a right to know a lot more than it does" about the association, said Fairfax Supervisor Martha V. Pennino. "But we have very little effect on the hospital board."
While county supervisors generally praise the quality of patient care at the hospitals, they say they have no idea if the facilities are being run efficiently or even if the retirement benefits are needed to retain top executives at the association.
Supervisor James M. Scott, who also serves on the association's board, described the benefits package as a "rich new option for FHA executives ... who undoubtedly make more than their counterparts on the county payroll." Scott argued that if the association "had $104,000 to spend, I'd much prefer that they'd given the money to lower-paid employes, like nurses."