I-Team: The leader of two Tampa Bay area hospices gets paid well into six figures

Her nonprofit says she also oversees a pharmacy

TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. - How much is too much to pay somebody to run a couple of hospices?

Kathy L. Fernandez made a total of $862,858 overseeing two Tampa Bay area non-profit hospices for the 12 months that ended Dec. 31, 2010, the most recent year for which compensation data were available.

As president and chief executive officer of Chapters Health System Inc., Fernandez is in charge of Lifepath Hospice Inc., which provides palliative care in Hillsborough County, and Good Shepherd Hospice Inc., which serves Hardee, Highland and Polk counties. Both hospices have their headquarters in Temple Terrace.

Fernandez is a registered nurse with a bachelor of science degree in nursing and a master's degree in health care administration, according to the company's annual report.

Her base salary was $399,274 in 2010. By comparison, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's annual salary is $150,000.  Compensation for Fernandez included a $104,810 bonus.

A spokeswoman for Chapters Health System provided a written statement in response to questions from the ABC Action News I-Team. Patty Klein, a public relations specialist at Chapters Health System, noted that the company includes not only the two hospices but a pharmacy and a medical staffing concern.

"Chapters Health is, first and foremost, committed to providing outstanding care and services to patients and their families," the statement read. "A critical element of that commitment is the ability to attract, develop and retain the best and brightest professionals in the field."

A compensation committee of the company's board of directors uses a personnel consultant and a law firm to help design the pay packages for Chapters Health System executives, according to the statement.

In an indication that end-of-life care has become big business in Florida, Fernandez isn't the highest-paid hospice CEO in the state.

Michael P. Gallagher, CEO of Gainesville-based North Central Florida Hospice Inc., earned a total of $2.6 million in 2010. North Central Florida Hospice, which does business as Haven Hospice, is an arm of Santa Fe Healthcare Inc., which pays Gallagher for his work at the hospice.

The non-profit Santa Fe Healthcare also owns a large non-profit health insurer, AvMed Inc., and a chain of non-profit retirement homes. A spokesman for Santa Fe Healthcare says Gallagher heads the parent company as well as the hospice. His total compensation reflects his responsibility for overseeing all of Santa Fe Healthcare. The company claims only $144,000 of Gallagher's $2.6 million compensation in 2010 was for hospice work.

Back in the Bay area, the second highest-paid hospice boss was Marge Maisto, president and CEO of Sarasota's Tidewell Hospice Inc., at $367,563 for the year that ended June 30, 2010.

In third place in the Bay area was the late Mary J. Labyak, who was paid a total of $317,481 as president and CEO of the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast Inc. for the year ended Sept. 30, 2010. Labyak, a nationally known pioneer of the modern hospice movement, died of cancer in February.

Do you have information about government waste, fraud or abuse? A tip about business misconduct that needs to be investigated? Email us at iteam@abcactionnews.com. 

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