What’s that? You are surprised Erlanger Hospital lost $4.1 million in March? You say you are disappointed our region’s Level One trauma facility has now lost over $17 million this fiscal year and you worry, with surgery cases dropping and more staff physicians taking a hike, that the future doesn’t bode well, either?
It could always be worse. You could be one of those 150 former employees who have been axed since this tsunami started in December or - even worse - you could have been one of those five people during urological surgery when the machine in the operating room suddenly quit running, as was aptly described during the monthly meeting of the hospital’s finance and budget meeting on Monday night.
Quite obviously, the time has come for hard-fisted action. I’m not going to sit here and remind anybody that I’ve been writing of such peril since early January and – as just one voice – I’m not going to pretend I know all the answers to the myriad of complex problems the board of trustees will consider at the monthly meeting tomorrow night.
But I’ve been around when football coaches – really good guys – had to be fired and I’ve watched as America’s greatest companies have risen from the ashes so the formula is really rather simple. You get rid of the problems. The biggest is a marked lack of leadership and it starts at the top. Current CEO Charlesetta Woodward-Thompson must accept the blame because it is clear the ship is floundering under the command of her so-called “team.”
She said as much Monday night when she, begging for “consultants” to help unravel growing problems, said, “We’re kind of on that (last) leg – where we make it (or falter).” The chief financial officer Britt Tabor finally expressed concerns over “cash on hand and debt-service ratio.” Are you kidding me? And are you trying to tell me no one saw this coming?
This month’s crying towel comes in the colors of doctors’ white coats as they flee the ship. Please! I don’t believe you can find a doctor, a football quarterback or an open-range cowboy who would sign on with such an outfit. My goodness, the same executives who created this woeful mess are still firmly entrenched at the helm! Where is the promise? Who on earth would want to buy futures with a prognosis that anyone can see is in peril.
The medical staff, already terribly maligned, has begged for an executive search and the odds are good the board of trustees – thus far fiddling like Nero – will appoint a committee tomorrow night but now that turns out to be worse than icebergs in the North Atlantic. It will take “at least two years” to find a suitable replacement and – with the present leadership team – the monthly numbers confirm such a wait is akin to slow suicide.
Can you name any chief executive who would want to head Erlanger right now? I dare say that anyone of worthy mettle will look at the myriad of complex problems and prefer a migraine instead. To attract a competent CEO is the same as luring any doctor – it has to be a good situation and right now you have some very good specialists at the hospital who are sending out resumes instead of invitations. Don’t you think insiders know exactly what is going on? Recruit those people first – before they leave!
There is over $17 million in evidence, in just this fiscal year alone, that the present executive leadership team is lacking. There are good physicians already at the hospital who I think could serve as administrators in the interim to restore order to the chaos that – regrettably -- I also believe has increased during the past four months. Remember, March losses set a record.
The board of trustees should offer and accept any voluntary resignations from any of its members immediately. Rather than appoint new members under an antiquated system, a group comprised of the most immediate chiefs of staff should be charged to address and rectify the physicians’ embarrassments. The board can wait until a new charter is expedited. I would urge the county and city mayors to suggest civic leaders to volunteer their knowledge and expertise in this emergency and would beg the Tennessee Hospital Association, the leadership at our own BlueCross-Blue Shield, Unum and Chattem to get involved. I would return civic pride to Erlanger with our own civic power!
Certain properties, such as the Plaza Medical Towers, can be sold to provide necessary capital that a horrific computer system and lacking facilities demand. Get a blue-ribbon committee to churn our immediate resources. Above all, forget expensive consultants and, as we have learned, ridiculous out-sourcing has to stop.
The board of trustees – like it or not – must exhibit leadership tomorrow night. Get rid of the problems, forge ahead and be bold. We know wincing doesn’t work. Now is the time to take steps – big ones.