This Hospital Employs 7 Out of the 10 Highest Paid County Employees in California

New data from the California State Controller’s Office shows that 7 out of the state’s 10 highest paid county employees work at a single facility in San Joaquin County. But upon further inspection, one compensation expert sees little amiss. 

Among the top-earners are two physician managers at San Joaquin County General Hospital who earned a total of $1.07 million and $1.15 million last year. Their base pay was $322,972 and $607,902 respectively, but they each took home more than half a million dollars in additional pay such as call wages, car allowances, bonuses or other incentives, and holding multiple board certifications. 

In addition to the two physician managers, San Joaquin General Hospital employs five more of the highest paid county workers in the state. 

The Sacramento Bee spoke to the hospital’s top executive to find out why there is such a large concentration of high earners at his facility.

San Joaquin General CEO David Culberson said that a number of factors affect physician’s wages at the facility. For instance, he said, the hospital employs a limited number of physicians in some specialties. In the case of neurosurgeons, he said, there are three on staff and, because the hospital is a Level III trauma center, it must staff a neurosurgeon 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We don’t have a training program here, so we don’t have the fellows and the faculty members that are able to respond to neurosurgical needs,” Culberson said. “Basically, what that means is we’re having our physicians in-house 24/7 for trauma and anesthesia.”

Consequently, he said, over the course of a year, the neurosurgeons each will work 60-plus hours a week. A good chunk of the surgeons’ wages is for call pay over and above their regular 40-hour week. Each surgeon manager also receives a stipend to compensate for management duty, Culberson said.

“As you add more physicians, the need for that extra call pay would go down,” Culberson said. “If you had six doctors covering 365, they’re paid a whole lot less than if you have three doctors covering 365.”

He added that the hospital sees around 300 trauma cases a month due to crime and traffic fatalities in the area. 

For comparison, Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center chief neurosurgeon Dr. John P. Gruen earned $669,768 last year, but information on his workload is not available. 

The Sacramento Bee then asked compensation expert Paul Dorf what he thinks of the data. His answer was somewhat surprising.

In order to determine prevailing wages, Dorf said, consulting companies like his would review wage surveys prepared by three different organizations. He reviewed one such survey and noted that it showed that 94 neurosurgeons working at hospitals in the western United States reported average regular wages of $888,731.

This figure, he said, does not include added pay for on-call shifts or for department head stipends. Neurosurgeons in the 25th percentile of that wage survey earned $639,000 in regular pay, while those in the 75th percentile earned $1.07 million.

Dorf said, in reviewing the wages released by the state controller, that San Joaquin County may be getting a bargain. 

Read more at the Sacramento Bee.


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