I write this opinion today under my own free will, without any suggestion or prodding from the management of Erlanger Health System. As a medical doctor employed by Erlanger, I am on the front lines taking care of people. Erlanger is an excellent health system and an excellent place to receive care. It is easy to sit back at a distance and decree how things should run. It is a different matter entirely to be in the trenches taking care of the sick.
Erlanger doesn’t go out and look for trouble. Trouble finds us. The reason that our ER and our hospital are full is that other hospitals can’t or won’t take care of incredibly sick or uninsured patients. In our community, Erlanger is the facility that supports all of us. We are not a corporate hospital that sends profits out of Chattanooga and into Wall Street. We are not a private hospital that provides only a small token of charity care. We are the safety net and we treat everyone. To quote our iconic Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
The region should rally around Erlanger, not rally against it. When the hospital is continually overflowing with sick patients, then the best solution is to expand the hospital and increase staffing so that it can continue with its mission of compassionate care. Last year, our Hamilton County commissioners voted to provide $10 million for expansion of the Humane Society. This is indeed a noble endeavor for our four legged friends. Equally important is the need to support our community hospital. Typically, Erlanger receives about $1.5 million annually from Hamilton County to help offset the over $100 million yearly cost of uninsured patient care. This is woefully inadequate. In comparison, Regional Medical Center of Memphis receives around $25 million and Metro-Nashville General Hospital receives around $30 million annually from their county governments.
I am Erlanger. Our community is Erlanger. I am proud to work here and provide compassionate care. I am proud to say that my family receives their care at Erlanger. Erlanger is best for the health of my loved ones and for the overall health of our community.
Daniel Kueter, MD
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Dr. Kueter has written an excellent opinion letter on the importance of Erlanger to the entire community and the challenges it faces in being the hospital of choice for many and the safety net for all. I agree that the community should rally around Erlanger.
He makes an excellent point about funding. Why does Hamilton County contribute so much less for uninsured patient care than Shelby and Davidson Counties?
The underfunding of Erlanger is a reminder of the property taxes--$26 million last year--the city and county are not collecting due to due to PILOT and TIF tax incentives.
Here's hoping that the county will revisit their decision to build expand the Humane Society until they study the advantages of working with the city to see if the McKamey Center can be expanded. Why do we need two animal shelters? Taxpayers in Chattanooga pay city taxes to support McKamey and county taxes to support HES.
Helen Burns Sharp