$668K/Year Public Hospital President Double-dips $3.9 Million Extra Pension


"It's not like people are being laid off so Sam [Downing] can get a pension; what's happening here is a right-sizing," a flack for the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System tells the L.A. Times' Sam Allen. At issue: Salinas hospital district, is getting $3.9 million from a supplemental retirement fund set up to avoid an IRS cap on pension fund size. The first $3 million came two years ago, when Downing was still receiving his $668,000 a year salary. When he retires this week, he'll get another $900,000, on top of his regular pension of $150,000 a year.

In an excellent front-page story, Allen checks Downing's retirement haul against comps for other hospital administrators (it's considerably more generous), reviews the IRS tax-shelter rules (they don't prevent this kind of compensation), and checks in with pension expert Marcia Fritz. Interestingly, Downing speaks to Allen and uses the same defense used by L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks (whose LAPD retirement package is much smaller than Downing's): I earned it…

"I think I've earned it," Downing said in an interview. "I've stayed here out of my commitment to try to build a great hospital…. I worked for this institution and gave them my heart and soul."

A review of some other California hospital districts suggests his retirement package is unusually high. These districts are public entities that have the authority to tax and are operated by an elected board of directors, who set salary and compensation. The districts receive funding from a variety of both public and private sources.

The 2,000-employee Salinas Valley hospital is in the process of cutting about 600 jobs.