Roy Exum: Lincoln Park & Bebe’s Babble

Sunday, August 25, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I am excited about Andy Berke’s first steps as Chattanooga’s mayor and I am also thrilled with the initial efforts by Erlanger Hospital’s new CEO – Kevin Spiegel – but both of them have got to know this Lincoln Park nonsense is just plain stupid. Erlanger’s Trustees can’t afford to give anything away, much less a valuable five-acre tract of land within the city limits.

I don’t blame the mayor for jumping at the chance to get something for free. Everybody in America is already in line in our Nation of Entitlement, but Erlanger trustees, with staggering losses rumored to be about $15 million in the past fiscal year and a cloudy forecast calling for $5 million more in losses in the current fiscal year, must be prudent, accountable, and responsible to the owners – the people of Hamilton County.

Lincoln Park is located behind the hospital and the talk has been – this for years, mind you – that the valuable piece of land is the perfect venue for a quick access road to the Level 1 trauma center from busy Riverside Drive. Anyone can see how an ambulance could save precious minutes with such an access from the northern reaches of the county.

If any policeman was making a list of Erlanger’s Top Ten needs, such a road would be high on the list rather than ambulances and patients alike driving almost to UTC’s edge and doubling back up Third Street. And ask any policeman who is acquainted with the Lincoln Park area if it wouldn’t be just perfect as the ideal site for city’s newest “shooting gallery.” It would make the Top Five list by a landslide – just go look at the proximity to our gangs.

I have no doubt the people who live in Lincoln Park would relish a park rather than a road. And they clapped when Mayor Berke promised there would be no road. But nobody else in this community, save the tree-huggers and “Green” dreamers among us, would put a five-acre park project over such a long-awaited and critical access to quality healthcare.

To give, award, donate or present the land to the city of Chattanooga at no cost smacks in the very face of the fact that I believe Chattanooga is the largest city of its size in the world that flatly refuses to help fund the operation of its major hospital. Last year Erlanger had $88 million of “cost” in indigent care and, mind you, that doesn’t include “care” for those unable to pay. That the same city wants five acres for free is absolutely reprehensible.

The County Commission ought to immediately block such a frivolous give-away at the taxpayers’ expense. The same commission grants Erlanger $1.5 million each year but, please, that barely pays the medical “cost” of the county jail alone. And, again, that doesn’t include the “care” but know both appear on a balance sheet. What the politicians have allowed to befall Erlanger funding is simply tragic.

What is also deeply troubling, at a time when Erlanger has vowed to stop backroom meetings and honor the trustees with transparency, is that some trustees had no clue the give-away was part of Thursday night’s agenda. Somebody needs to give an honest answer how pictures had been taken and why a vote was so suddenly pushed. Mayor Berke’s workers sure had time to assemble an impressive press-conference cast.

It was there the ever-tiresome race card was played with state Rep. JoAnne Favors predictably reveling in the historic fact Lincoln Park was “the only park blacks were allowed to attend” and others nodding as the mayor called it “an important piece of our city’s African-American culture” instead of simply saying, “this would make our city much nicer” or something meant to unify rather than divide.

If Erlanger gives five acres of land to the city for absolutely nothing in return, apparently several people should be fired rather quickly. Such foolishness must stop.

* * *

I fear that our friend Bebe Haiskell, Walker County’s sole commissioner, has fallen and hit her head. Nothing short of head trauma could serve as an excuse of an alleged television interview where our girl reportedly made some ludicrous comments rather than tell the well-documented truth about Erlanger’s last-minute rescue of Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe.

As I recall, employees were being laid off by the dozens and cash flow had dried up when Erlanger raced in with a satchel of cash and saved the North Georgia medical facility. The biggest move was to deliver Roger Forgey, who Bebe highly praises, because it would have been impossible to have found any CEO as well-qualified or as able in the extremely critical time window.

In an embarrassing front-page article that appeared in Saturday morning’s Chattanooga Times Free Press, Heiskel was quoted as saying of Forgey, “He is the one (who) brought in all those high-end doctors at Erlanger (who) are in the university system, and they’re super doctors,” but the very next sentence read, “… the one thing (Erlanger) promised us was 15 doctors from Erlanger, but we never got ‘em.”

What do you think? Concussion? Bebe also accused Erlanger of going through $11 million of a $20 million (loan) in one year without making any changes. I believe Mrs. Heiskell needs to be quiet and sit in a dark room, which is part of head-trauma care. That way she can’t be quoted if she doesn’t say anything, nor will she embarrass herself and the Hutcheson employees who kept their jobs and continued to treat the sick.

Mrs. Heiskel would be well-advised to look at the hospital’s previous CEO she hired, the management and oversight errors, and the millions in losses before Forgey – and Erlanger involvement that in many cases was uncompensated and finally produced positive financial results and kept quality medical care for four North Georgia counties.

Bebe Heiskell should be ashamed of herself, particularly when Erlanger didn’t have $20 million to loan to anybody but still did the right thing for our neighbors.

Mercy sakes, is there something in the water or what?

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