Roy Exum: Erlanger Leaders Are Sick

Saturday, January 26, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The Hamilton County delegation of the Tennessee Legislature has recently written two letters to the Erlanger Hospital Board of Trustees, asking the group to slow down in hiring a new chief executive, but now frantic hospital leaders are clamoring for the politicians to do the exact same thing.

The legislators are poised to introduce a bill early next week that would alter the governance structure but as word of the proposed bill became public Friday, key hospital leaders fought pseudo-symptoms ranging from hypertension to nausea.

Erlanger, which lost $10.5 million in the last fiscal year and has lost another $2.5 million at the midway point of this year, desperately needs a better business model but what the area legislators are now proposing offers scant changes and will do little more than replace the current board of trustees with a new cast of characters.

What is clear is that the area’s Level One Trauma Center and Chattanooga’s top health provider needs a 501(c)(3) corporate structure but the legislators’ pending action calls for “just another” governing board of nine people, with just seven allowed to vote, that could -- quite literally -- vote to sell the hospital and its campuses – get this -- if just four members felt that way.

Currently there are 12 trustees but after millions in losses and a myriad of other vexing problems, concern for the hospital and the thousands of patients who are treated there each year has grown to epic proportions.  The legislature, hoping to stop a politically-driven board that has proven to be inadequate, wants out of the nominations business and hopes to ask Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger to pick a new nine-person team with two unable to vote.

That way the hospital would function just as it has and vocal insiders predict the consequences would be dire. Under the proposed bill, the Sunshine Law would still be in effect and there are ominous undertones that a “takeover” by the University of Tennessee, a private corporation, or another hospital could soon take place with just four votes, or a majority, needed to succeed. In short, the proposed bill is abysmal.

Seriously, the pending bill as outlined makes no sense to anyone who is familiar with the hospital and, sadly, most of the present trustees said Friday they have not spoken to, nor met with, the Hamilton County legislators. That fact leads to the presumption by some on the board, as well as other hospital leaders, that something may be “fishy” in the hurried actions by the politicians.

Why there hasn’t been a joint meeting between the legislators and the entire board is curious. Some of the hospital group already feel the delegation has been steered in a wrongful way that hardly reflects the true wishes of the trustees, the community and hospital leaders.  Ever since Board Chairman Ron Loving actively campaigned for embattled Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson to remain as CEO there has been distrust within the hospital leadership and, with change now eminent, tensions are high.

The trustees, most shocked by the legislators’ toothless bill, are poised to name a new CEO after interviewing the final three candidates, who are each well acquainted with what has happened at Erlanger in recent years. And the proposed legislation does call for the new board to rotate, the members selecting incoming candidates as individual terms expire. That’s a good move.

If, indeed, County Mayor Coppinger selects the first nine members – and who would ever want to serve on a board with the liability but not be allowed to vote? – Mayor Coppinger would be well-advised to pick some of the current board members because not only are some very solid and qualified, they already know the inner-workings of an $800 million business better than any outsider ever will.

It is clear the legislators have little knowledge of Erlanger’s problems or such a flimsy bill would have never been brought into being. The “Sunshine Law” stifles competition and the highly-successful business model that many other 501(c)(3) hospitals across the country enjoy. Then again, the puzzling lack of mid-management, the void in capital spending, the horrible out-sourcing, and the poor decision-making are almost too much for any one mortal to comprehend.

Believe this; until the legislators meet with the full board of trustees and carefully listen, any rush to push a bill through at the state level will hurt much more than it will help. As one put it so succinctly, “these (politicians) have a chance to be heroes but are becoming the villains. This opportunity isn’t going to come around again.”

So, yes, the need to move quickly is obvious but to make the wrong move – by just changing from one cast to another in the same dreadful play – is ridiculous and may the Lord help us all if our representatives in Nashville can’t recognize the urgent need for a total and complete reorganization at our region’s most important health facility.

Not only does Erlanger deserve better, the citizens of our region do too.

royexum@aol.com


Justification For A Utility Rate Hike

In justification of a proposed utility rate hike the CEO of Cleveland Utilities cited a March issue of a regional magazine that declares Cleveland Utilities rates are 18.7 percent below the national average. This is not a new tactic but a worn out one that gets played over and over again and not only with a utility hike but with property taxes.  According to data from 2008-2012 ... (click for more)

A "Pleasant" Towing Experience Downtown - And Response

I had a pleasant experience today. I met a friend of mine today for lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings downtown which whom I had not seen in a long time. I also walked out to discover that my 2013 Ford was missing.  Vehicles were being towed in volumes. I asked one of the tow truck drivers about it and he said they towed it (from the lot next door) to Carter Towing at 1619 Dodds ... (click for more)

Cabela's To Open Fort Oglethorpe Store May 13

Cabela’s announced Monday plans to celebrate the official grand opening of its new Fort Oglethorpe store on Wednesday, May 13, with a unique ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a weekend-long celebration featuring giveaways, family activities and more.  The ribbon-cutting ceremony, hosted by Cabela's executives and special guests, will begin at 9:45 a.m. and conclude with ... (click for more)

City Set To Commission $200,000 Mural On MLK Boulevard By Famed Muralist Meg Saligman; Foundations To Cover Cost

The city is set to commission a $200,000 mural on the side of the AT&T Building on MLK Boulevard by famed muralist Meg Saligman. Ms. Saligman has created over 50 murals all over the world, including one called  "Fertile Ground" that is 32,500 square feet in Omaha, Neb. Her most famous mural is "Common Threads" on the west wall of the Stevens Administrative Center ... (click for more)

Rail Runners Win In Double OT

East Ridge Alum Alex Wells has an impressive scoring resume from high school to now in semi pro, but missing is a game-winning shot at any level.   But Sunday afternoon in a Central Basketball Association game, he did everything but hit the winner (16 points) in guiding the Chattanooga Rail Runners to a 116-113 double overtime win against visiting Bowling Green (Ky.). ... (click for more)

UTC Women's Tennis Takes 1st Win Over Furman Since 1997

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women’s tennis got a huge monkey off its back with a 4-3 win over Furman on Sunday.  The Mocs snapped a 24-match losing streak against the Paladins with their first win in the series since 1997. UTC had come close in the last four meetings, falling 4-3 each time.  Today’s win gives Chattanooga a 14-2 overall record as it ... (click for more)