Roy Exum: An Erlanger CEO Tonight?

Monday, February 18, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It’s an easy bet that when 16 disgruntled Erlanger Hospital doctors signed a letter opposing the hiring of a new CEO by the hospital’s board of trustees, a collective groan – or, better yet, a moan -- went up from approximately 135 other hospital physicians who are now almost at wit’s end after almost 15 months of abysmal leadership and glaring incompetence by our region’s Level 1 medical provider.

A special meeting of the Board of Trustees has been called by Chairman Ron Loving tonight in a much-anticipated effort to seat a new Chief Executive Officer and finally begin a massive rebuilding effort of both governance and integrity at Chattanooga’s largest hospital. And despite a last-ditch effort by a very few malcontents, the overwhelming majority of the medical staff and the 4,000 employees are hoping one of three finalists will indeed be chosen tonight in an effort to lead the medical center back to prosperity.

In stark reality, the hiring of a CEO, as huge as it may well be, will not be as vital as the monumental task of assembling a new Board of Trustees in coming weeks. As part of the cure prescribed by the local delegation of the state legislators, a new group of nine prominent trustees will replace the existing board and the newly-chosen CEO will answer to those Hamilton County citizens who have not yet been identified or appointed.

Erlanger, after losing $10.5 million in the last fiscal year, has become so “dysfunctional,” in the words of one state legislator, the area delegation has fast-forwarded the formation of a new governance in the Legislature. The state House has approved the new measure unanimously.

But the hiring of a new CEO, so sorely needed after the hospital has reported further losses of $2.5 million in the first half of this fiscal year, is considered as both imperative and urgent by Chattanooga’s top medical figures and concerned community leaders alike. Tonight’s meeting by the hospital’s trustees has been eagerly anticipated as the first positive step after existing leadership on both the current board and the administration alike has floundered so badly a team of consultants had to be summoned.

The unfortunate “eleventh hour” letter, signed by a predictable cast hoping to prolong and further stall the desperately needed changes, captured the top headline in the Sunday editions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, but much more noticeable was the lack of signatures by other physicians, particularly by those who are considered as the true medical leaders of the hospital and other department heads who are understandably disheartened and disgusted.

Instead, the overwhelming consensus of the medical community is to select a CEO tonight from the three finalists who have been chosen in a proper and well-versed process and have been interviewed and vetted by the board. Of the three finalists, it appears Kevin Spiegel will most likely get first consideration. He is currently an administrator for a hospital in Memphis.

Spiegel, as well as the two other finalists, knows a new Board of Trustees will soon be chosen by the area legislators in an earnest attempt to assure quality medical care continues and will eliminate many of the pitfalls that have combined to put the hospital in such distress. The new board, which will finally select its own members rather than have them assigned by special-interest groups, will hopefully institute a non-profit 501(c) (3) type of operating arrangement that will be further invaluable to the hospital.

Spiegel is said to be quite comfortable with the challenge of leading Erlanger and putting together an executive team to deal with a growing number of problems. The biggest unknown is who exactly he will be working for – nine trustees who have yet to be chosen.

Until the new board is formed, whoever is chosen as the new CEO will be employed at the behest of the board now in place and it stands to reason if the current board offers the job, they have confidence in the candidate’s ability based on a year-long process by the selection committee.

The selection of a new CEO could be one of the last official acts by the present board but, if the appointment turns out well, it would be a tribute to those who made the choice after enduring such a stormy tenure.

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