PRESS RELEASE | Industry Disruption and New Talent Requirements are Impacting Health Care Executive Pay

Results from the 2019 Manager and Executive Compensation in Hospitals and Health Systems Survey

November 4, 2019 – Chicago – SullivanCotter, the nation’s leading independent consulting firm in the assessment and development of rewards programs and workforce solutions for the health care industry and not-for-profit sector, recently released survey results showing that industry disruption and new talent requirements are impacting executive compensation levels and incentive programs.

The drivers of these changes are: (1) increased complexity of health care organizations due to consolidation, mergers and acquisitions, and new partnerships; (2) changing models of care, as organizations transform to integrate care across the continuum, enhance access, deliver an improved patient experience, and focus on population health/value based care; (3) pressures for cost efficiency; and (4) entry into new businesses to pursue revenue diversification and growth. C-suite leaders of health care organizations must possess the skills and competencies to manage the increased complexity, uncertainty and change. Proven talent is in high demand. Aggressive senior leadership recruitment and retention efforts are being observed in the market, particularly among the largest organizations, which is causing upward pressure on pay. At the same time, less senior roles within health systems and leaders of system-owned entities are experiencing less upward pressure on compensation due to the operational focus of these roles and more talent availability. There is also a growing emphasis on performance-based compensation for senior leaders to tie rewards to attaining short-term and long-term goals.

An analysis of the survey data indicates that median base salaries for the most senior executives of independent health systems with enterprise-wide responsibility (CEOs, COOs and CFOs) increased at a rate of 3.5% to 4.0%, versus 3.0% for these same roles at system-owned hospitals. For senior vice presidents, however, median base salary increases were more aligned at 3.1% for independent health systems and 3.0% for system-owned hospitals.

When considering organization size, salaries are rising faster for CEOs, COOs and CFOs at larger, more complex organizations. For health systems with more than $3B net revenue, median base salaries for these top executives rose between 4% and 5%, compared to 3.0% to 3.5% for smaller independent health systems with less than $3B net revenue. The median change in salaries for management, vice president, and senior vice president roles across both systems and hospitals was almost consistently 3.0% across the board (except senior vice presidents of larger health systems, which was 3.5%).

In addition, performance-based incentive levels are increasing for senior health system leaders. In most executive roles, total cash compensation (TCC, equal to base salary plus annual incentives) increased faster than base salary. Additionally, changes in TCC differed by type of organization, with health systems rising faster than system-owned hospitals. Median change in TCC for CEOs, COOs, CFOs and senior vice presidents at independent health systems ranged from 4.7% to 6.5%. In contrast, the median increase for these roles at system-owned hospitals ranged from 3.0% to 3.9%. As with base salaries, both the level of senior executive TCC increases and target incentive opportunities were higher for larger independent health systems (i.e. revenues greater than $3B) compared to smaller ones.

Furthermore, larger health systems use long-term incentive plans (LTIPs) more commonly for top executives to support the attainment of critical organization-wide objectives. Among health systems with greater than $5B in net revenue, 47% utilize LTIPs, versus 30% for health systems with greater than $1B in net revenue. “Large health systems are shifting their performance focus from individual facility success to measuring outcomes system-wide in the areas of population health management, alignment, integration, quality/patient safety and financial stewardship. Well-designed annual and long-term incentive programs can be effective in supporting these efforts and driving desired performance outcomes,” said Bruce Greenblatt, Managing Principal, SullivanCotter.

“We are seeing upward movement in compensation for health system executive positions, especially those in larger health systems and those located in cities with a high cost of living, reflecting the highly competitive market for talent and the difficulties faced by these organizations to attract talent. Increases are more modest for hospital executive positions, especially those at system-owned hospitals. This speaks to the broader availability of talent for these positions and the increasing operations focus at the hospital-level as shared services and administrative functions are aligned at the system-level,” explains Tom Pavlik, Managing Principal, SullivanCotter.

SullivanCotter’s 2019 Manager and Executive Compensation in Hospitals and Health Systems Survey is now in its 27th year.  It provides critical benchmarking data on compensation levels and pay practices, and is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind for hospitals and health systems nationwide. The survey includes data from over 2,200 organizations, comprising 460 health systems and more than 1,800 hospitals, and captures information for more than 42,000 incumbents. For more information on SullivanCotter’s surveys, please visit our website at, email us at or contact us by phone at 888.739.7039.

About SullivanCotter

SullivanCotter partners with health care and other not-for-profit organizations to understand what drives performance and improve outcomes through the development and implementation of integrated workforce strategies. Using our time-tested methodologies and industry-leading research and information, we provide data-driven insights and expertise to help organizations align business strategy and performance objectives – enabling our clients to deliver on their mission, vision and values.


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