Nonprofit Health Org at Center of 'Million-Dollar Baby' Controversy Is Run by (Highly Paid) Democratic Donors

Dignity Health billed its own employee $898,984 for her premature baby, denied appeals until ProPublica started asking questions

November 6, 2019

Top executives at Dignity Health, the nonprofit health care provider that stuck its own employee with a $900,000 bill for her premature baby, have donated extensively to Democratic candidates and committees over the years.

Dignity Health CEO Lloyd H. Dean has contributed $46,850 to Democratic candidates and committees over the years, according to campaign finance records. Recipients include Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Senators Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) and Cory Booker (D., N.J.). He has donated no money to Republican candidates or committees.

Dean received $11.9 million in reportable compensation in 2018, according to publicly available tax filings. That same year, the nonprofit reported $6.6 billion in net assets and $608 million in net revenue. In addition to Dean, the company listed 24 other executives who received more than $1 million in compensation, including general counsel Rick Grossman ($4.6 million) and COO Marvin O'Quinn ($4.1 million).

Forbes reported earlier this year on the prevalence of nonprofit hospitals and health care providers earning massive profits and paying their CEOs exceedingly high salaries. In fiscal year 2016, 9 of the 10 highest paid CEOs at nonprofits worked in the health care industry. Dean ranked fifth on the list, with total compensation of $10.3 million. The top-earning nonprofit executive that year was Ascension Health Alliance CEO Anthony R. Tersigni, who reported $13.6 million in total compensation.

A number of the high-earning executives at Dignity Health have also donated thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates. Dignity board chair Tessie Guillermo, who earned more than $80,000 in 2018 for the part-time gig, has donated $5,250 to Democrats. Guillermo's predecessor, Caretha Coleman, donated more than $37,000 to Democratic candidates and committees. Senior vice presidents Brian Brannman and Linda Hunt, as well as chief strategy officer Charles P. Francis, have each donated more than $5,000 to Democrats.

Dignity Health has a history of supporting Democrats beyond direct contributions from executives. The nonprofit was one of several organizations to participate in the Obama administration's 2014 initiative to establish "sustainable and climate resilient health care facilities." In 2015, Dignity announced it would divest its financial holdings in thermal coal companies, and pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020.

The tax-exempt organization, which is based in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D., Calif.) congressional district, faced intense scrutiny following a ProPublica report on employee Lauren Bard's harrowing experience with the company's self-funded health insurance program following the premature birth of her daughter in September 2018.

Bard, who works as an emergency room nurse in the Dignity-owned St. Bernadine Medical Center in San Bernardino, was handed the steep bill after inadvertently missing her insurance plan's 31-day enrollment deadline for newborns. That meant the extensive care her daughter Sadie received in order to save her life would not be covered.

The traumatized mother appealed to her employer—whose motto is "Hello humankindness" and which describes its mission as "furthering the healing ministry of Jesus through the delivery of affordable health care"—but was ultimately rejected. The company only relented and added Sadie to Bard's insurance plan after ProPublica reached out to a Dignity media representative. Bard, who sometimes refers to her now-healthy one-year-old as her "million-dollar baby," said she does not think the company would have reversed course absent the media scrutiny.

In a formal letter announcing the decision, Dignity said it had received new information about the "extenuating and compelling circumstances" that prevented Bard from meeting the 31-day deadline. The "new" information, however, did not appear different from what Bard had already provided the company. ProPublica also spoke to federal regulators who disputed Dignity's claim that they were legally prohibited from making an exception to Bard's insurance plan, citing a provision that allows such plans to show leniency to individuals with "adverse health factors."