Bluegrass mental health board tells employees they might get raises

jcheves@herald-leader.comJune 11, 2012 

  • What is the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board?

    Bluegrass is a state-backed non-profit that provides psychiatric care, addiction treatment and counseling for people regardless of their ability to pay. It also manages two of Kentucky's largest mental health centers — Eastern State Hospital in Lexington and Bluegrass Oakwood in Somerset — and private community homes for the mentally disabled. There are 14 regional mental health boards around Kentucky, under the aegis of the state Health and Family Services Cabinet. Bluegrass — by far the largest — is the board serving Central Kentucky.

  • Bluegrass executive compensation in 2010

    Shannon Ware, chief executive officer: $250,016 base pay, $25,002 bonus pay

    Joseph Toy, retired CEO/consultant/CEO of Bluegrass New Directions: $127,621 base pay, $665,339 from deferred compensation plan

    Tambara Nalle, chief financial officer: $154,066 base pay, $5,392 bonus pay, $255,666 from deferred compensation plan

    Tricia Salyer, chief administrative officer: $154,066 base pay, $5,392 bonus pay, $264,878 from deferred compensation plan

Patient-care workers might start getting more money at Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board, which is Central Kentucky's state-backed provider of mental health care.

Bluegrass has sent letters to its 2,300 employees suggesting that raises or one-time bonuses could be approved by the non-profit's board of directors at a special meeting Thursday. The announcement follows Lexington Herald-Leader stories about Bluegrass's spending — including executive pay — and an impending financial examination by state Auditor Adam Edelen.

Money for raises for most Bluegrass employees could come from $31 million in cash reserves and similar assets, board chairman Scott Gould and chief executive officer Shannon Ware wrote in one of the letters, sent Friday in response to the newspaper stories. For Bluegrass workers at facilities in Somerset, a bonus to be paid by June 30 could come from the non-profit's current management fee, Ware wrote in a separate letter sent Monday.

Bluegrass would prefer not to dip into its cash reserves, but "we are committed to an unprecedented move in our history," Gould and Ware wrote. Rank-and-file workers at the non-profit have not gotten raises in several years, which "weighs heavily on the board and leadership," they wrote.

"We have always believed it is important to respond to the very legitimate, important and worthwhile concerns of our staff — including the need to reward and invest in our employees," they wrote.

"Our success is a direct result of the hard work you do every day to better the lives of those who seek our help," they wrote. "We have not lost sight of that important fact. We know that our programs are only as good as our staff."

On June 3, the Herald-Leader reported that Bluegrass spends plentifully on executive compensation, political lobbying and real estate while citing tight budgets to its front-line employees, many of whom complain about low pay, no raises and austere working conditions. Bluegrass's annual revenue more than doubled during the past six years to $176 million as it expanded and won more state contracts.

The Herald-Leader also reported that Bluegrass's executive payroll includes Ware; her husband, Joseph Toy, who is her predecessor and remains as a paid consultant; and their son-in-law, Eric Crabtree, the director of information technology. In 2010, Ware and Toy together took home more than $1 million in total compensation.

On Thursday, in response to the stories, Edelen told Bluegrass to expect the arrival of his auditors.

Bluegrass is funded chiefly by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which last year paid it $126.2 million, plus $32.5 million in Medicaid. Aside from providing psychiatric care, counseling and addiction treatment, Bluegrass manages two state mental health centers, Eastern State Hospital in Lexington and Bluegrass Oakwood in Somerset.

Ware did not return a call Monday seeking comment. Gould, in an interview, said there has been no discussion of changes in Bluegrass' senior management.

"I feel like we're just trying to conduct business," he said. "Obviously, people are always happy to get a raise. So I'm sure they're happy for whatever we can do for them."

In their letter to Bluegrass employees, Gould and Ware said that, two weeks earlier, they had "alerted everyone that a focused media review was under way from the Herald-Leader."

"Now, several days post-coverage, we remain concerned about the purpose of the coverage," Gould and Ware wrote. "We are very concerned that several outside interests may be seeking to create a great deal of confusion and doubt that could ultimately compromise the important work that we do."

In an attachment to their letter, Gould and Ware defended the compensation paid to Ware and Toy, including base salaries, bonuses and deferred compensation plan payouts. Senior management deserves that money, they wrote.

"Unlike all other employees of the board, the CEO has comprehensive day-to-day responsibility and authority for all combined corporations, all staff, all client services and a budget of $171 million. The scope of her responsibilities is great and so is her accountability to the board of directors and all of our publics," they wrote. "The current CEO is paid reasonably for her responsibilities and comparably to her peers."

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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