Roy Exum: Can Erlanger Prevent Genocide?

Saturday, July 27, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The Roseland Community Hospital, located on Chicago’s South Side, had losses of $2 million in 2011 and, due to what is believed to be lousy management, has laid off workers and is now turning away patients. If you are already drawing a parallel to our Erlanger Hospital, with $10 million in losses last year due to lousy management, you need to know what happens when a hospital is shuttered tight.

In Chicago the usual suspects – community activists, the workers and the unions – have raised a clamor, noting the 350-bed facility cares for roughly 50,000 people in the immediate vicinity. But, wait, from out of the shadows comes a crowd that’s says the hospital is vital. Members of the Black Disciples street gang know what will happen if Roseland closes.

“It’s bad enough we are out here harming each other,” the gang’s co-founder, Don Dirk Acklin, told NBC News,” but for the hospital to close that can help people that is innocent and being harmed (by stray bullets) – that is genocide!”

Another protester moaned, “If there is nothing here at all, period, then where are they going to go? Just lie in the street and die! We deserve the right to live.”

Well, the whole thing would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Chicago is the murder capital of America. And “gang-bangers” have cost hospitals all across the country a lot of money. In Chattanooga, for instance, Erlanger Hospital has treated about 70 victims of street shootings this year. A typical gunshot wound – in and out the door -- averages about $50,000. Simple math: 70 shootings at $50 grand each equals $3,500,000. (Not many gangs have group insurance.)

The city of Chattanooga, where the senseless shootings occur with regularity, flatly refuses to help fund the region’s Level One trauma center. Hamilton County government, on the other hand, allocates $1.5 million to Erlanger but the medical costs of the county jails alone average roughly $1.2 million a year and prisoners don’t have health insurance, either.

Unlike Chicago’s Roseland, Erlanger is “one foot away from hell but headed in the other direction.” New CEO Kevin Speigel is a dynamo, the board has been boosted with fresh leadership, and the recent raises for nurses and staff are a Godsend. Despite the residual losses resulting from horrible leadership before Speigel was hired, there are sound indicators Erlanger will flourish in given time.

Unlike Roseland, Erlanger still provides quality care and concerted efforts to change the governing body to an operating structure similar to a 501c3 formula will be huge. The state legislature must approve the change – since Chattanooga’s largest hospital is owned by the citizens – but the Hamilton County delegation is committed in helping Erlanger recover.

Speigel, who has now been the CEO for three months, has made huge strides already. He has renewed the confidence of the physicians and brought better working conditions for nurses, techs, and their assistants. A $25 million surgery update is the first of many capital improvements that have been ignored by previous administrations and he is courting a number of high-profile people to fill crucial positions. But his biggest gift is in guiding some quality personnel already in place and the year-end deficit, while bitter to taste, is already being challenged and corrected.

The raises just given to employees – unheard of given the year’s losses – shows a brilliant vision by the Board of Trustees. Not only is the across-the-board increase badly overdue, it confirms a belief by the hospital’s leadership in the hospital’s rank-and-file that was sorely needed. Erlanger has about 4,000 employees that have admittedly been beaten down in the year of persistent failures before Speigel came on board.

Erlanger’s biggest need is money. With local government officials still leery after watching Erlanger crumble under past leadership, they want to see results before considering additional funding but when they are presented evidence of Erlanger’s stunning indigent care – or the 70 shooting victims that have been rushed to the ER since January – they turn a blind eye.

Such attitudes, by both elected officials and Chattanooga’s legendary philanthropists, must be nurtured towards change. Erlanger is the people’s hospital in Chattanooga. The people own it. And rue the day when somebody cries, “If there is nothing here at all, period, then where are (the people) going to go? Just lie in the street and die!”

According to members of the Black Disciples gang in Chicago, that is genocide.

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