Nassau University Medical Center is pictured in East Meadow.

Nassau University Medical Center is pictured in East Meadow. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Trustees of the public benefit corporation that runs Nassau University Medical Center, which is struggling with budget deficits, on Tuesday defended large salaries awarded to top executives, saying the money is necessary to attract and keep top talent.

Last week, the NuHealth board voted to make Dr. Anthony Boutin chief executive and president of NUMC, boosting his salary from $357,000 to $535,000. Boutin had served as acting chief executive since January.

General Counsel Megan Ryan's received a $93,000 salary hike, to $450,000.

The board also voted to hire John Donnelly as NuHealth's chief operating officer. Donnelly served as chief deputy county executive under former Democratic County Executive Tom Suozzi, now a House member from Glen Cove. Donnelly will earn $475,000 a year in his new position.

Salaries for Ryan and Boutin were approved without opposition, while Donnelly's appointment passed in an 8-5 vote.

Several trustees defended the pay hikes for Boutin and Ryan, whose new salaries passed unanimously.

But some board members complained they hadn't received advance notice of Donnelly's nomination, which was made Thursday night by NuHealth board Chairman Robert Detor.

Trustee Steve Cohn said of Ryan and Boutin: "Here you're dealing with people with highly specialized skills. There's a demand for them, and you have to enter the marketplace and pay for that talent."

Cohn, who opposed Donnelly's appointment, said, "We had no clue this was coming. It was out of left field."

Board member Linda Reed also backed Ryan's and Boutin's salaries. Reed said the raises "are well deserved for the two longtime employees that continue to go above and beyond their daily responsibilities to keep the hospital moving as they have always done."

Reed also opposed Donnelly's hiring. She said she had "asked for a resume and a chance for the board to interview Mr. Donnelly as have always been past practice for corporate officers. Unfortunately that was denied."

Detor defended the salaries for Donnelly, Ryan and Boutin as "well within industry standards."

Asked board members' assertion that they were caught by surprise, Detor said: "Based upon the past performance of many of the legacy board members, I took the course of action that I felt was in the best interests of the hospital, of [NuHealth], to get the job done."

Some trustees who backed Donnelly's appointment cited a report last month by outside consultants who said NuHealth could run a deficit of up to $197 million next year without significant outside subsidies.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which controls NUMC and Nassau County finances, hired the consulting firm of Alvarez & Marsal to review hospital operations.

"It was more than providing salaries, it was filling out our executive structure and coming into a time as important as this one," said board member Ryan Cronin, an appointee of County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat.

"Particularly with regard to the revenue generating opportunities in the A&M report, it’s important we have a full executive team and a capable executive team," Cronin said. "As part of that, you need competitive salaries."

Board member Eva Pearson, a Democrat-appointed board member, said she understood "how these salaries can be met with skepticism in the public eye. However, given that we are a hospital in a financial crisis as well as in a health crisis, we need leadership that is commensurate with any other exceptional hospital, and in order to retain that leadership we needed to offer commensurate" pay.

Jerry Laricchiuta, Long Island regional president of the Civil Service Employees Association, said "the optics of the salaries can be hard to swallow, but during this tough time economically we’re a struggling corporation ... and we need to have the top people involved."

He said Ryan and Boutin "have proven themselves." He said he had a good working relationship with Donnelly from his prior county service, but "the jury's still out" on whether he'll turn out to be a good hire.

Curran declined to address the salary issue, but said in a statement: "The hospital has a path to finding new revenue streams, but needs a leadership team that has the ability to perform. That starts with having qualified professionals who know how to preserve core health care services that communities depend on, especially amid this pandemic."

The county backs $173 million in hospital debt.

NIFA chairman Adam Barsky did not respond to requests for comment.

Chris Boyle, a spokesman for Republican county legislators, criticized Curran for having "praised the $475,000 patronage hire of a well connected Democrat to run the county's cash-strapped safety net hospital."

Longtime board member Bobby Kalotee said, "it doesn't matter who it is, what it is, because of a financial strain that does not mean we should hire unqualified people who are agreeing to the lower salaries. You can’t compromise that."

Trustee Warren Zysman said Tuesday he thought the process for hiring Donnelly was unfair to the candidate, who didn't have a chance to pitch himself to board members.

"Taxpayers should be upset. It was a really terrible way to conduct a hire at that level, of that amount of money, for someone that no one even met."

NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer.  Credit: Randee Daddona; Newsday / A.J. Singh

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