At some point in this story about Wheaton-Franciscan, someone is going to start looking into local physicians' salaries. I know, because we've started to do so, and other media isn't far behind.
But before we rush into public outcry over the millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars doctors make, it's worth noting a few things:
1.) Doctors are paid based on their billings. A doctor who makes $1 million dollars a year generates five to six times that amount of money for a health care provider. That's why they get big salaries - they bring in big dollars.
2.) Doctors spend 10-plus years in school racking up massive debts to become doctors. Not that we need to feel sorry for them, but doctors do provide a skill most of us cannot. As a result, they get paid more. Whether that's fair or not is a different story and debate.
3.) Every doctor makes mistakes, and some of those mistakes lead to death or further injury or illness. It's part of the business.
I bring all this up because the issue of doctor pay is going to come up soon. Two local doctors made over $2 million in 2008, making them the highest-paid employees in Wheaton-Franciscan.
By comparison, All Saints' top administrators make somewhere around $500,000 a year. It's all an insanely high amount of money, and the reflex will be to question why anyone needs to make that much money.
My hestitation in calling doctors or administrators out on their salaries is, well, they're the people who keep people alive. Maybe they don't do it as well or as efficiently as we'd like, but when it comes down to it, I want a well-paid, talented doctor seeing my friends and family members. It's something I wouldn't want Wheaton-Franciscan, or any provider, to skimp on.
But no doubt the bomb is coming on "so-and-so" made this, and "so-and-so" made that. We're ready to jump in the fray with lists of top-paid doctors and executives. Hopefully we can put at least some of the numbers in some sort of perspective.
In the dispute between Wheaton and its doctors, no one needs protecting. But I'm afraid it will be easy for the community to get distracted from the bigger picture, which is the quality of health care in Racine. It's an important debate - one our lives' may well depend on. Let's hope we don't get distracted by dollars and lose sight of common sense.