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$100K pay raise at UNMHSC highlights salary debate

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Make more than $200,000 a year and want a raise? UNM’s Health Sciences Center might be the place to be.

A University of New Mexico review showed that 58 university employees made more than $200,000 a year and received at least one 10 percent raise since fiscal year 2014.

Ava Lovell, who oversees the Health Sciences Center's $1.7 billion budget, received roughly $100,000 in raises. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Ava Lovell, who oversees the Health Sciences Center’s $1.7 billion budget, received roughly $100,000 in raises. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Fifty-six of those employees are Health Sciences Center faculty, and another was an HSC staffer. The other was Joseph Cecchi, UNM’s school of engineering’s dean.

The salary information is contained in documents obtained by the

Journal, which show Dorothy Anderson, vice president for human resources, started the salary review process in May following a meeting with UNM President Bob Frank.

The review also found that one employee, Ava Lovell, a CPA who oversees the Health Sciences Center’s $1.7 billion budget, had received a total of roughly $100,000 in raises over the course of three years. Anderson recommended that Lovell’s base salary of $300,136 be cut to be in line with employees with similar tasks. She also receives $55,000 in deferred compensation.

“This review was relevant since these increases would have occurred at a time when many other employees were not receiving pay increases,” Anderson wrote in the memo obtained by the Journal .

Frank said Lovell wasn’t specifically targeted, but that her salary stood out upon review.

Lovell wasn’t talking, but her attorney, Karen Mendenhall, feels differently.

“I believe it’s retaliation against her,” she told the Journal . “She was singled out by the university to have her salary and her deferred compensation attacked, and there’s no credible basis in doing it.”

The Journal attempted to reach Lovell directly, but her lawyer responded instead.

Regents President Rob Doughty said the raises show the need for the recently restructured HSC governing body.

“At a time when students are being asked to pay more and faculty is making do with less, it seems like a massive 47 percent pay increase for a top-level bureaucrat indicates a real or perceived lack of accountability and tone deafness,” said Doughty. He sits on the committee that oversees the HSC.

But UNM regent Suzanne Quillen said that many raises at Health Sciences were approved in 2014 in an attempt to keep people, and added that it wouldn’t make sense to reduce an employee’s pay as it “defeats what we have been trying to build.”

Main campus administrators say they are trying to be financially responsible in cutting the salary and benefits package for Lovell. But Frank said there has been pushback.

“Nobody likes to have their salary adjusted.” Frank said. “It’s a miserable activity to engage as a human and a boss.”

Dr. Richard Larson, HSC’s executive vice chancellor, said the Health Sciences Center – home to the hospital, medical school and other health care programs – is struggling to pay competitive wages to its personnel.

“The Health Sciences Center operates in a pretty difficult position,” Larson said. “We’re in a very highly competitive market to attract and retain physicians and other health care leaders.”

Strife between the two campus branches started earlier this year when the board of regents voted to overhaul the governing structure of the HSC, changing the makeup of its governing board to become a committee of the regents and ditching outside community members. The change also brought the Health Sciences Center clearly under Frank’s authority.

Doughty and Quillen were on opposite sides of that issue, with Doughty’s group prevailing on a 4-2 vote that was taken just three days after the controversial proposal was unveiled in a regents’ agenda.

And further challenges arose when Frank wanted to change the email addresses for HSC employees to unm.edu addresses — an effort he put on hold this week citing the dissension.

$100,000 in raises

According to her biographical page on the HSC website, Lovell – who has been with UNM for more than two decades – took her current position as senior executive officer for finance and administration in 2012. She oversees the HSC budget, and her responsibilities include, “fiscal and administrative oversight for the HSC including academic and health system enterprises.”

In July 2013, she received an increase to $205,680, about 5 percent.

The following year, her pay went from $205,680 to $260,000, roughly a 26 percent increase. And in 2015, her pay was bumped from about $260,000 to roughly $300,140, which is about a 15 percent increase.

According to a UNM official, faculty on both campuses received a 3 percent salary increase and 0.75 percent increase to their retirement contributions in 2013-2014 and 2014-15. Staff received a 1 percent salary increase in 2013-2014, and a 2.5 percent increase in 2014-2015, and a 0.75 percent increase in the retirement contribution both years. Faculty and staff didn’t receive a raise this year or an increase in retirement contributions.

A health care workers union recently walked out of contract negotiations after University of New Mexico Hospital refused to suspend out-of-pocket costs for employee health insurance.

A recent document shows that Lovell’s increase in 2015 was at the direction of Paul Roth, the chancellor of the Health Sciences Center. Roth was unavailable for comment.

Larson told the Journal that the increased salary was an attempt to keep Lovell on board. They were paying her less than similar institutions pay in the same job. And he said she had received a $400,000 offer from an another university.

Frank said he and staff disagree with the HSC’s take on Lovell’s duties. And he said that even the proposed adjusted pay of $241,650 is an “extremely generous compensation package.”

The report calls for changes to Lovell’s pay so that her fiscal year 2017 pay would be $241,650 or to modify her deferred compensation to $25,000. Another option calls for modifying her current contract, but that option didn’t mention financial figures. Changes to her salary are on hold pending a review from an outside firm.

Regents weigh in

The disagreement has drawn attention from members of the board of the regents as well. Quillen, a Certified Nurse Practitioner with a history in health care management, formerly chaired the now-defunct HSC board of directors. She said that in 2014 the regents approved a series of raises that would increase employee pay in an attempt to retain them.

“I feel it was an effective policy then and feel it is even more critical today,” Quillen said.

And Regent Lt. Gen. Brad Hosmer, who sits on the HSC committee, defended Lovell’s credentials.

“Ms. Ava Lovell has extensive experience in finance, accounting and administration, with particular expertise in the complexities of health care finance and was one of the key management executives we counted on,” Hosmer said in a statement.

Regent Marron Lee, who is also on the HSC committee, raised concerns similar to those of Doughty and said review of highly paid administrators is necessary for regents.

“With regard to this particular employee, the amount of compensation has raised some concerns,” Lee said in a statement. “We are currently reviewing a number of positions, including those in the finance areas, to ensure that we are as efficient as possible in our operations. This applies to organizational roles, budgets and compensation.”

Although Anderson also mentioned 56 faculty members in her letter, Frank said it was unlikely that their salaries would change.

“If anything, we should probably be giving them more money,” Frank said.

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