Roy Exum: Erlanger Is Already Changing

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The man was talking about golf and how hard it is for a good player to make a change in the way he grips the club. “Understand, the golfer is already good but if he can roll his hands just slightly, he can not only address the ball better but it will be easier to get through the ball. You tell that to the golfer, and he knows it might help, but when it comes to actually committing to change, he about goes to pieces.”

Anyone who has ever played knows that’s true but it wasn’t a golf professional who told me that. Instead it was a man who we pray will be a master at change. Since arriving in Chattanooga on April 1st, Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel has spent every daylight hour – and many nights – in his quiet but relentless effort to bring Chattanooga’s largest hospital back to sure prosperity.

That speaks volumes when the latest monthly financial report showed another $5 million in losses but Spiegel hasn’t stopped running from dawn until dark. And, if I am any judge after watching the noble Baroness be embarrassed for the last 18 months, when he reveals his vision in the coming weeks the future of our region’s Level One trauma center will be brighter than ever.

There is a visible urgency around every corner at Erlanger right now but rather than create an even bigger mess with a rush, Spiegel has a method to overcome the madness. To read his daily calendar makes you tired; he’s packing 90 seconds into every minute. He’s evaluating his core team and expects to hire a chief operating officer within six months.

In a meeting with the Hamilton County Commissioners on Monday, he was emphatic he wanted their input and is arranging a breakfast at the hospital to get our county leaders more involved in “their” hospital. “It’s crazy for anyone to think their ideas and expertise don’t matter. I don’t want to have just meetings – I want a continuous dialog with our leaders.”

Spiegel is thrilled with the two most-recent appointments of Tom Edd Wilson and Jack Studer to the Board of Trustees. “I am excited because I have had so many people on the hospital staff tell me Jim Coppinger made two great choices. I have meetings scheduled with both but the fact our doctors and staff already know them is the best endorsement you can imagine.

“Part of my vision statement will include looking into the best type of 501c3 operating platform to bring us into the future and Children’s Hospital will be one of the first big projects we will tackle. It is a great asset to our three-state area and I believe our pediatricians and our nurses are capable of even greater miracles if we can get them what they need. That’s the exciting part of my job.

“I haven’t done any hiring because, in fairness, I think there are some capable people in some areas already. I need to identify those who buy in to the obvious fact we need to change the way we’ve been doing things. Yes, change is hard but to stand still is even harder. I can assure you I am talking to people that I think will make us better but I am also finding we have some real gems who are already here.”

The new CEO has been meeting and listening to every board member and admits his day starts early when he has coffee in the doctor’s lounge. “I have had a number tell me they aren’t used to seeing the CEO and I have told each of them that if they don’t see me it will only be because I have business out of town. My goal is for every doctor at this hospital to be successful, respected, and heard.”

Speigel said he wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses when he accepted the post and “when I saw the recent headline that ‘CEO sees red after monthly budget,’ I knew the early months would be tough as I adjusted. What has happened has taken place over a period of time and there isn’t a quick fix.

“Our $25 million upgrade in surgery is going to be wonderful but, like anything else, it takes time to build anything the right way. There are so many good and exciting things that are going to happen. You have my word on it. I believe the upcoming vision statement will include some things that will mean a lot to both our employees and our patients,” he added.

It’s called change. Some good golfers struggle mightily with it. Kevin Speigel relishes in it.

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