What she did not say on both occasions was that she has a highly paid side job: She has, since 2019, had a seat on the board of directors of a major, for-profit telemedicine company.
Her directorship at Teladoc Health, formerly Livongo, has vastly supplemented her $2.7 million yearly compensation at Children’s Hospital. As of the last week in March, her company stock, which was compensation for her board work, was worth $8.8 million, according to an analysis for the Globe conducted by Equilar, a corporate leadership data firm. Like other directors, who are also paid for their work, she is legally bound to act in the company’s best interests.
A Children’s spokesperson said the hospital does not do business with Teladoc. But even without such a direct conflict, these sorts of lucrative directorships have drawn criticism from medical ethicists and some doctors who say they are not always disclosed, and can blur the loyalties of hospital leaders and distract them from their core responsibilities.
Such arrangements were once relatively uncommon among chief executives and presidents of Boston’s academic medical centers. Their prestigious jobs already demanded enough of them, overseeing billion-dollar institutions devoted to patient care, scientific research, and medical training. And they had been alerted to the potential risks: Several scandals during the 2000s had revealed cozy relationships between hospital doctors and pharmaceutical companies, leading to greater scrutiny and more restrictions on these relationships.
But outside commitments of this kind are not uncommon here anymore — far from it. While it remains fairly unusual for hospital chiefs across the country to work as directors for publicly traded companies, the practice is now routine in Boston, the Globe Spotlight Team has found.
The Globe found that of the seven CEOs and presidents of Boston’s major teaching hospitals, five also work as directors of publicly traded companies. Earlier this year, the number sitting on company boards was six out of seven, but one of them, Dr. Elizabeth Nabel of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, retired last month. Nabel worked for two publicly traded companies and a group of investment funds at one point, attending, either remotely or in person, between 30 and 40 board and committee meetings called by the two companies in 2019, SEC filings show.
Such a raft of meetings can take a bite out of the leaders’ attention and time, and outside board work can remove them from key decisions at their hospitals as trustees try to mitigate real — or potential — conflicts of interest. There is also a risk that executives will use their prestigious positions in a way that advances their own financial interests without proper disclosure, or try to drive hospital business to specific companies. The Internal Revenue Service and other agencies monitor hospitals for potential conflicts and misuse of their tax-exempt status.
Hospital trustees and chiefs of each of these seven Boston hospitals declined interview requests from the Globe, but, in statements, they described their allowing outside directorships as a way to increase collaboration with the critical bioscience sector that produces important drugs and devices — and said that the hazards can be avoided with proper safeguards.
Scott Sperling, chair of the Mass General Brigham board of directors and a top executive for a Boston private equity firm, said seeing up-close how these companies operate “enhances rather than impairs’’ a leader’s “ability to do their job.”
Boston Children’s Hospital spokesperson Kristen Dattoli said that hospital executives have long advocated for telehealth because it’s beneficial to patients and staff, a view she said was unrelated to Fenwick’s board position. The hospital also said that Fenwick, who retired last week, was transparent about her corporate interests at the Harvard forum last fall, because the board affiliation was…