published Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Erlanger trustees choose Kevin Spiegel as new CEO

The Erlanger board of trustees convenes to vote on the appointment of a new permanent CEO.The board voted 5-3 to offer Keven M. Speigel the position of CEO.
The Erlanger board of trustees convenes to vote on the appointment of a new permanent CEO.The board voted 5-3 to offer Keven M. Speigel the position of CEO.
Photo by Jay Bailey.
HOW THE TRUSTEES VOTED

Yes

Kim White

Michael Griffin

Dr. Phyllis Miller

Dr. Dan Fisher

Dr. Nita Shumaker

No

Donnie Hutcherson

James Worthington

Russell King

Abstain

Chairman Ron Loving

Absent

Jennifer Stanley

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Erlanger hospital's board of trustees voted Monday night to name Kevin Spiegel as the hospital's new CEO, finishing a nearly yearlong search in 16 minutes, with no public discussion about the candidates.

Five of Erlanger's 10-member board approved Spiegel, who has been CEO at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis for the past five years.

Three trustees dissented, Chairman Ron Loving did not vote, and trustee Jennifer Stanley was absent -- though she named Spiegel as her top pick in a letter to the board. The board later voted to have the record show the decision as unanimous.

"We were really looking for someone who could bring in new business to the system, push for someone who knows what health care's going to look like in five to 10 years, and position Erlanger so we can continue our mission," said trustee Dr. Nita Shumaker, who called Spiegel someone who can "walk into a room and come out with a win-win."

Loving said the board met privately for about 45 minutes to discuss parliamentary procedure before the public meeting. No deliberation about the CEO vote was held, he said.

Spiegel said Loving called to congratulate him after the vote Monday night.

"I will be on the first flight to Chattanooga I can get tomorrow," he said. "My first activity will be to talk with some of the hospital-based physicians, and look at the issues that face Erlanger and the health system."

Loving said negotiations with Spiegel will begin immediately, with a contract hammered out this week. The new CEO would assume his position in March.

Spiegel's appointment culminates a search process that began after former CEO Jim Brexler stepped down under pressure from the board in December 2011.

In the last two months, the process was complicated by intervention from state lawmakers and acrimony among hospital physicians.

Local legislators are currently pushing a bill that overhauls Erlanger's current board. The bill already has passed the House. State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, is the Senate sponsor but has yet to move the bill.

Trustee Dr. Phyllis Miller, who led the CEO search, said that the board paused the CEO selection process until legislators gave the "green light" to move forward.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, emphasized Monday night the board always had the power to make the decision in its own time, but said he is glad they slowed the search and that he and other legislators had the opportunity to talk with Spiegel first.

"I'm supportive of their decision and I hope the very best for the hospital," he said.

As Miller made her motion to vote, she said the search had been a "very thoughtful, deliberate process over many, many months."

"We feel like we have done good work and we have done it with the greatest of integrity and dedication."

Others thought the vote was still too rushed -- that not enough was clear about the board's future and that the candidates had not been publicly vetted.

Before the vote, trustee Russell King asked the board to hold off.

"If there is a new board, I think the new board should make that decision," said King, who added that the hospital is regaining financial stability under interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson.

"We've had a number of physicians contact us, petition us and ask us just to hold off," he said. No trustee supported King's request for a delay.

Monday night's called meeting came amidst an 11th-hour effort by a group of Erlanger physicians to urge the board to delay its vote. By Monday, 24 physicians had signed a letter requesting the board to wait.

About 35 hospital staff members and physicians filled the back of the board chamber as trustees dispensed with the single issue on their agenda.

While trustee Donnie Hutcherson said he would have gladly passed off the vote to the new board, he felt there was too much uncertainty surrounding the legislators' and County Commission's timeline for passing and implementing the bill.

"I'm afraid we would be failing our fiduciary responsibility if we kicked the can down the road. It would be irresponsible if we did not move forward," he said.

After the meeting, Dr. Paul Apyan, one of the physicians who requested the board delay its decision, said he had never received adequate answers to questions.

"Why was there such a rush? What's the rush to make a decision? No one in this entire process has ever answered that question."

Several of the physicians -- and at other points, state legislators -- have expressed concerns about Spiegel's ties to the University of Tennessee and a possible power play by the university to secure a favorable financial agreement with Erlanger.

Methodist University Hospital, part of Methodist-Le Bonheur Healthcare, is the major academic campus for the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center College of Medicine, where Spiegel is also an assistant professor.

Trustee Dr. Dan Fisher emphasized the worries about a UT takeover are overblown. The majority of physicians at the hospital are "ready for a change," he said.

Several trustees say they were reassured of UT's intentions by a last-minute visit Friday from Steve Schwab, the chancellor of UT's Health Science Center, who also met with key physicians.

Spiegel said he is not worried about the board change.

"I believe those individuals will also want to embrace the hospital and take the hospital to the next level. There are changes that need to happen today. This is a healthy thing. This should be viewed as an exciting day in the history of Erlanger," he said.

Spiegel beat out Rear Adm. Donald Gintzig, a senior health care executive with the U.S. Navy, and Ken Haynes, former CEO of the seven-hospital St. Joseph Health System in Kentucky.

Hutcherson said he had planned to vote for Haynes, but said Spiegel would be an "outstanding CEO."

"I think any one of the three candidates would have been a wonderful selection for Erlanger," he said.

Woodard-Thompson, who has served as the hospital's interim CEO since Brexler left last January, was excluded from the short list of CEO finalists.

Loving said one of the board's priorities now should be showing Woodard-Thompson support during the transition.

"We want to continue to celebrate and to appreciate publicly the accomplishments of Charlsetta. We see the evidence in terms of results. She's done so much and she deserves to be celebrated."

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