Jackson County

SRHS CEO’s salary is competitive but nurses’ pay isn’t, board told

Jackson County Supervisor Ken Taylor, foreground, listens to comments about Singing River Health System’s coming budget that needs the approval of supervisors by the end of the month. With Taylor are Board President Melton Harris, center, and Chancery Clerk Josh Elderidge.
Jackson County Supervisor Ken Taylor, foreground, listens to comments about Singing River Health System’s coming budget that needs the approval of supervisors by the end of the month. With Taylor are Board President Melton Harris, center, and Chancery Clerk Josh Elderidge. klnelson@sunherald.com

Retiree Pat Nelson was concerned nurses’ salaries aren’t competitive at the county’s hospital system, but the CEO’s salary is.

She lodged her complaint with Jackson County Supervisor Ken Taylor on Tuesday after she heard CEO Kevin Holland pitch his new budget for the county Board of Supervisors’ approval. Supervisors delayed the approval until they get more details about the budget.

Nelson, a nurse who retired from the Singing River Health System, was at the meeting to hear Holland and his top administrators talk about the budget with the county board.

Holland needs his budget passed by the end of the month, but Taylor and other supervisors still have questions — five pages of them. And because Holland didn’t get back with the answers until 4 p.m. Friday before the Labor Day weekend, he or his team is being asked to meet with Taylor, the chancery clerk and other supervisors who want more details about how the hospitals are being run.

Taylor asked for a special workshop this week.

New budget has profit margin

In the meantime, Holland and his team gave a surface explanation of the $340 million budget Tuesday. They had support in the audience from SRHS Board of Trustees members, hospital staff and economic-development people such as Jerry St. Pé, whose son holds a top position at the hospital system.

▪  Holland said the hospitals now have an almost 3 percent profit margin and 65 days of operating cash on hand to satisfy the bond covenants — financial stability requirements by the entities that loaned SRHS $100 million in recent years.

▪  He said the budget contains a 2 percent raise for staff and administration.

▪  He said nurses got a small raise 18 months ago, but his team made it clear they are still being paid less than the market rate for nurses in the area, which puts the county-owned hospital system at risk of losing them.

▪  Money for capital improvements is tight in the budget at $8.7 million, $4 million less than the department requests. And COO Lee Bond warned supervisors the older Singing River Hospital needs upgrades.

High administrative salaries were a bone of contention among retirees and employees of the hospital system in 2014, when Holland owned up to an $88 million accounting error and failure to meet bond covenants that put the system in crisis. That’s when the hospital also tried to divest itself of the retirement plan it was failing to fully fund. Retirees sued and that fight still hasn’t been settled in court.

New law brings more insight

However, county leaders are now better able to see the workings of the hospital system, in part because of a new law was passed in response to the crisis. Taylor said supervisors have the power to replace their appointees on the SRHS Board of Trustees more easily.

“I’m satisfied with progress we’re making,” Taylor said. “I have faith in some of the people over there. I do.”

Taylor said Holland’s team split the hospital system into 24 divisions for the purpose of delivering information to county leaders, but expenditures aren’t broken down by hospital. Taylor said each division has departments, and the supervisors need more details about staffing and expenditures in those departments and expenditures at each hospital — Ocean Springs and Singing River.

The top administrative salaries system still aren’t public, Taylor said. “But we’ve been told it’s in range of normal for this area. Nurses are not. That’s going to be a big budget issue. Competitive pay has got to happen.”

Then Nelson asked Taylor, “Why do we let our CEO be competitive and not our nurses?”

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