Roy Exum: Chutzpah At Erlanger

Monday, January 20, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There were the cynics who laughed, I feel certain, when the headline in Sunday’s editions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press revealed Erlanger Hospital’s still-fresh CEO has a vision of building a new and sparkling children’s hospital within the next five-to-seven years. My goodness, Erlanger has lost millions of dollars in the past two years, is being swamped by indigent-care costs, and problem areas still abound. Kevin Spiegel is still putting his executive team in place, for heaven’s sake.

But for those who sense a Phoenix may indeed be rising from the “almost” ashes at our Level One regional trauma center, just the vision of the most pivotal building since the Aquarium began to transform the riverfront 22 years ago, is so brilliant and dripping with chutzpah it is almost intoxicating. Last summer Spiegel introduced the idea to hospital leaders and since then Bruce Komiske, an expert in implementing and designing some of the best pediatric centers in the world, has become a part-time advisor in “the baby steps” towards reality.

Spiegel and Komiske met over ten years ago when the two worked together helping to build a children’s hospital in Westchester, NY. Spiegel, who had become Erlanger’s CEO just four months earlier, knows well what a state-of-the-art children’s hospital means to a community and brought the talented Komiske to Chattanooga, where he showed an eye-popping presentation to hospital trustees and other community leaders.

The first gathering, hosted by Kim White and River City, was intended to “float” the idea and was well-received. The current Children’s Hospital has stood in the Erlanger campus on East Third Street for almost 40 years and the world of health care has changed dramatically since then. Komiske’s designs are fresh and innovative, hardly appearing as a place for the sick, and who doesn’t want the best for our children?

The toughest question is how to pay for such hospital. While Erlanger is rebounding from losses caused by several harrowing years of mismanagement, the main hospital is hardly in a position to break ground anytime soon, but with Chattanooga’s well-noted philanthropy and the city’s unabashed progressive stance, there is enough interest now being generated in small focus groups that there is viable conversation for a new regional pediatric facility.

Erlanger has other pressing needs, indeed, so it is clear a new Children’s Hospital would be a gigantic community project in much the way the Tennessee Aquarium came into being. During Komiske’s first presentation he stressed the people in the community were most responsible for the stunning pediatric centers like the one in Westchester where he first met Spiegel.

Robert Brooks, a promising and energetic guy, has just arrived as the hospital’s new Chief Operating Officer, which will ease the executive burden that Spiegel, Gregg Gentry and Brett Tabor have shared for the past year. Spiegel expects to add several others on his executive team within the next three months.

In December a high-tech operating room – one of three like it in the country -- was installed at Children’s and a $25 million surgery center is being constructed at Erlanger. “We have a lot of things we need to do,” said Spiegel, “but the idea of a new Children’s Hospital is something that we really need to be looking at if we are going to best serve the region.”

As he explained the rationale behind a campaign for Children’s Hospital, it hardly sounded brash or far-fetched. It is exactly what Kevin Spiegel was brought to Erlanger to do and as he reverses losses, brings in new physicians, and launches new services, what is wrong with such a dream?

royexum@aol.com


David Carroll: It's The Principal Of The Thing

For more than 20 years now, I’ve been an education reporter.  Most of the time, I’ve loved it. I go into more schools than the milk delivery guy.  I regularly visit 20 different counties and school districts, more than a hundred schools every year.  The rich ones, the poor ones, the new ones, the crumbling ones.  I’ve attended the groundbreakings and dedication ... (click for more)

School Grade For Grits - And Response

I just watched a news item on Fox and Friends, about grading elementary students on how they have grits.  The thinking is how children are able to "tough" things out in life, they would receive a grade on their report card.   My feelings are this should be handled at home.  The people in support of this said students spend more time at school than home.  That ... (click for more)

Appeals Court Rules Against WWTA In Lawsuit Brought By Apartment Complex Over $8 Monthly Charges To Units

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of an apartment complex that sued the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Authority (WWTA) over an $8 monthly charge per apartment unit for preparing private service laterals. The court overturned a granting of summary judgment in favor of WWTA by former Judge Jackie Bolton. The appeals court said American Heritage Apartments, ... (click for more)

Barrel Feared To Contain Hazardous Materials Safely Removed From Waterway At Short Tail Springs Road

A couple walking their dog on Sunday in the Highway 58 area called 911 reporting a strange barrel leaking a blue substance in the waterway. The barrel was later safely removed. The Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department responded around 2:30 p.m. to 7900 Short Tail Springs Road. Fire officials found a 55-gallon barrel in the waterway, but there were no visible signs of a blue ... (click for more)

Hall, Tull, Helton are Athletes of the Year

 A trio of outstanding athletes – a pair of UTC alums and a current Duke football star – will be recognized as “Athletes of the Year” at the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame dinner to be held March 2 at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Former Southern Conference Female Basketball Player of the Year Taylor Hall is the female honoree, while UTC football All-American ... (click for more)

McCallie Wrestlers Take Third in State Duals

In a battle for third place in the TSSAA S-II State Wrestling Duals, it came down to the last match as McCallie’s Ryan Ward secured a 4-2 win as the Blue Tornado defeated MBA, 36-33 Saturday afternoon at the Williamson County Ag Expo Center in Franklin. McCallie used three pins in the first five matches to lead 24-0, but MBA won six of the next seven matches to even the score ... (click for more)