Gov. Dan McKee on Tuesday defended his administration’s $46,000-a-month, three-month consulting contract with outgoing Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, but gave a one-word answer when asked whether he thought it was a lot of money.
“Yes,” McKee told reporters after an unrelated news conference in Providence.
Asked why he signed it if it was a lot of money, McKee said: “I think there’s value there.”
He said he’d asked Alexander-Scott to stay on board, but she left to pursue other opportunities. After negotiating between the state’s and her attorneys, the state decided it was important to keep Alexander-Scott in the loop.
“We think it’s going to help long-term in fighting the pandemic,” McKee said.
Alexander-Scott had served since 2015 as the state’s director of the Department of Health. Now, she is considering running for Congress to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. James Langevin.
Alexander-Scott had an annual salary of $143,000 after a pay bump in 2019. That’s about $8,000 more than her predecessor, but less than other department heads and other medical doctors on the state’s payroll, and less than regional counterparts. Dr. Brian Daly, the former chief medical officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, had an annual salary of $281,921 before he left. Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones, Department of Corrections Director Patricia Coyne-Fague and Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti all make $155,000. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor has an annual salary of $221,561.
Even some of the medical doctors in the Department of Health who work under Alexander-Scott make more, including medical director Dr. James McDonald, whose salary is about $190,000.
The median household income in Rhode Island is about $67,000; in its capital city, Providence, it’s slightly less than $46,000, according to Census figures from 2015 to 2019.
If you were to add Alexander-Scott’s $143,000 salary to the $138,000 she could make in three months as a consultant, Alexander-Scott would still have made less in 2021 than two state corrections officers made when overtime was figured into the equation, and would be the state’s third-highest-paid doctor, payroll figures show.
Through the pandemic, Alexander-Scott had served as one of the state’s most recognizable public officials. Her last day as director is this week; then she’ll have a month of leave before her three-month consulting contract starts at the beginning of March. Duties will include providing advice on the COVID-19 pandemic response and the proposed Lifespan-Care New England merger.
“We feel as though that’s fair for taxpayers and reflects the work that Dr. Alexander-Scott has done,” McKee said Tuesday. “I think you’re going to see the work she’s going to be able to provide, in terms of guidance, is going to be valuable, especially as we work our way through the rest of the pandemic.”
McKee also downplayed any talk of friction with the Department of Health, whose deputy director, Thomas McCarthy, also recently announced his departure. McCarthy is leaving for a job at Unite Us, a technology company that builds coordinated care networks of health and social service providers. Interim replacements haven’t been announced yet.
“Good people leave,” McKee said. “It’s the job of a manager and an executive like myself to replace good people with good people.”
Alexander-Scott said in a previous statement about her future: “My focus right now is on the many important issues before RIDOH, and assisting with the Department’s leadership transition so RIDOH is set up for both short- and long-term success. I’m currently weighing a number of different options for after I step away from the Department that would allow me to continue working to give all people and all communities an equal opportunity to be healthy and thrive.”