CHICAGO — Chief executives at nonprofit hospitals earned an average of $600,000 a year — and in some cases, more than $3 million — but there was no correlation between high pay and good outcomes for patients, according to a study.
Chief executives were paid more at hospitals that got high patient satisfaction scores; used more high-tech equipment including advanced imaging machines; had more beds; and were located in large urban areas.
But pay was not reflected in 30-day outcomes for patients with heart attacks, heart failure, or pneumonia in 2008, including deaths and readmissions.
Those are among publicly reported outcome measures used by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and others.
While these hospitals get big tax exemptions for providing charity care and other community benefits, the researchers said, the top executives’ pay was not tied to those measures, either.
Compensation varied widely, from less than $100,000 to more than $3 million but averaged almost $600,000 in 2009, the study found.
The results were ‘‘a little disappointing,’’ said study author Dr. Ashish Jha, a health policy professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health. To not hold chief executives accountable for whether patients live or die within 30 days of treatment ‘‘doesn’t quite make sense,’’ he said.
Jha said the message for hospital boards that decide compensation is this: ‘‘If you really care about patient outcomes here’s a place to look.’’
The study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. It is based on an analysis of records including federal tax returns for 1,877 executives overseeing 2,681 private nonprofit hospitals.
Those studied comprise 98 percent of private nonprofit hospitals, study authors said.