LSU health head works at ‘80%’

The man leading LSU hospital and medical education restructuring is making $409,000 annually for part-time work.

LSU documents show that Dr. Frank Opelka’s pay is based on an “80 percent effort,” an arrangement that allows him to do other work for compensation outside LSU employment. The salary arrangement is comparable to what he had in his prior job as vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the LSU Health Science Center in New Orleans.

Opelka’s initial appointment is for five years, according to a letter to Opelka from LSU System President Williams Jenkins that outlines his job responsibilities.

Opelka became LSU System executive vice president for health care and medical education redesign in late August, replacing LSU System Vice President Dr. Fred Cerise.

The move came as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration embarked upon a dismantling of the public hospital system as it exists today and altering their role in training the state’s future physicians. The plan relies heavily on private hospitals to do both.

The administration said quick action was imperative because of a sudden drop in federal contributions to the Medicaid program precipitated by congressional action.

Cerise had urged caution, saying the fast track the Jindal-controlled LSU Board of Supervisors was on could end in disaster for patient care and medical education.

Opelka, like Cerise, serves at the pleasure of the LSU Board.

Opelka said the salary based on part-time work came about in July 2010 because of budget cuts and the amount of time he was spending away from his Health Science Center job helping with federal health care redesign efforts.

“LSU was facing budget cuts year after year at the same time I was being recruited to aid the U.S. government in various aspects of redesigning health care for the nation,” Opelka wrote in response to written questions. “I was taking more time in Washington, D.C.

“To do my part in the budget cuts at LSU, I approached LSU to reduce my compensation and it was suggested that I reduce my status to 80 percent to help retain vital people. I did so.”

At the time, LSU documents show that Opelka was making about $514,000 annually from a combination of sources.

Opelka’s outside work continues to keep him out of state attending various meetings.

Opelka said he has been working on changes to Medicare and other health plans. He has been involved in national health care quality initiatives on behalf of the American College of Surgeons and been assistant medical director of the ACS Advocacy and Health Policy Division.

Opelka said his expenses are covered as he works on national committees related to health care revamps. He said there’s also payment for “occasional personal time advisory work or honorarium for speaking.”

His $409,000 pay, includes $149,556 base and $260,000 in supplemental income.

LSU system general counsel Shelby McKenzie said the supplemental compensation comes from self-generated income of the faculty group practice plan.

Cerise’s salary was $325,000 annually, plus a $12,000 annual automobile allowance while serving in the vice president’s post. He had a $260,000 base salary and $65,000 related to a medical school faculty position.

Under the appointment agreement, LSU guarantees Cerise’s salary until Sept. 15, 2015, in another LSU job — if mutually agreed upon, if terminated from the vice president’s job without cause or the position is eliminated.

As a full-time employee of the LSU Health Science Center, Opelka had to fill out forms disclosing his outside employment. Forms had to be filled out for each outside employment event but did not require disclosure of income.

Prior to his going to part-time status in 2010, records show that Opelka did work for Amedisys, a home health and hospice care company, the American Board of the Medical Society, the National Quality Forum, UnitedHealth Group Physicians Advisory Committee and the American College of Surgeons.

Once Opelka went to part-time status, no reports were filed. LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans Chancellor Dr. Larry Hollier said Opelka no longer has to file the reports, which are called PM-11s, named after Presidential Memorandum No. 11 that required them.

According to an Amedisys report, Opelka served on the company’s Strategic Advisory Board in 2011.