Hospital Authority Trustee Jim Worthington said Erlanger Health System began to face a dire financial situation after an exodus of physicians during the Jim Brexler administration.
Mr. Worthington said, "Jim Brexler absolutely wrecked Erlanger Hospital. He did not want physicians to have any say-so on anything that went on in the hospital.
"Parkridge and Memorial knew that our doctors were upset, and they courted them. They made everything rosy for them. As a result, the surgeons started going down the street to the other hospitals.
"Other doctor groups followed. And with the doctors went the money. That's what's killed us."
Erlanger has lost over $17 million this fiscal year, including over $4 million last month.
Mr. Worthington said, "The doctors went where they were appreciated. We allowed it to keep happening. I saw it, but I couldn't get others to act. There were too many trustees in Jim Brexler's quarters."
He said Erlanger has been slow to provide physicians needed equipment and operating areas. The former coach said, "When I was recruiting a kicker and he asked for gold-tipped shoes, I didn't wait to get it for him until he was a senior."
The veteran trustee said when surgeons left Erlanger they were given access to two operating rooms at other hospitals. He said, "Surgeons tell me that if they have two operating rooms they can do three times the surgeries in any given length of time.
"You have to respond to the surgeons' needs and we weren't doing that."
Mr. Worthington said he noticed that Erlanger had patient satisfactory surveys and employee satisfaction surveys, but no physician satisfaction surveys. He said Mr. Brexler did not want such a survey.
He said he finally convinced a majority of board members to order that such a survey be undertaken.
Mr. Worthington said, "It was still three months until we got it. When we did, the results were deplorable. I read it for two and a half hours. Other trustees couldn't believe what was in there."
He added, "It wasn't 15 or 20 doctors who filled it out. There were 160."
Mr. Worthington said the current CEO, Charlsetta Woodard-Thompson, "is doing everything she can to try to get the doctors to come back, but it's next to impossible."
He said he favors bringing in outside consultants to help Erlanger management. He said, "Charlsetta and her team have been doing all they can, but they don't claim to have all the answers. Someone from the outside can come in and say, "Well, have you tried this? Or have you tried that?"
He said one strike against Erlanger is a lack of community support. He said public hospitals in Memphis, Knoxville and Atlanta get far more funding from local governments than Erlanger. "We start off every fiscal year $80 million in the hole (uncompensated care)," he pointed out.
Mr. Worthington, who goes off the board in a year, said, "It's going to be tough to find a way out of this."