published Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Erlanger revamp bill filed in Tennessee House

CEO SEARCH UPDATE

Erlanger's board of trustees may call a special meeting to vote on a new CEO as early as next week, Dr. Phyllis Miller, head of the Erlanger CEO search committee, said Monday.

The 12-member board currently has two vacancies, both county mayor appointments. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Monday that he would not be making any sudden appointments.

"At this point in the game it would be totally unfair to appoint someone to that board," he said. "The perception would be that they were put on that board to vote a specific way."

Coppinger said he hopes Erlanger trustees heed state legislators' strongly-worded request to hold off on hiring a CEO until after a new governance structure is in place.

Current board appointments

• Twelve voting members

• Terms: Four years

• Replacement: Chosen by appointing body (city/county*, 4 members each; chancellors, 1; legislative delegation, 1; medical society, 1; medical chief of staff, 1)

• There are two vacancies on the board; both are county mayor appointees

While state House Majority Leader Rep. Gerald McCormick still wants a complete overhaul of Erlanger's board of trustees, he appears more willing to ensure local physicians have one or several votes on the board.

State lawmakers on Monday filed the first draft of a bill to restructure the Erlanger hospital board, after a weekend of fielding phone calls and letters from doctors worried the medical community would have no influence in hospital decisions.

Late last week, both McCormick and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, both Republicans, appeared uncompromising with physicians, saying that they want the hospital's new board to avoid any conflicts of interest and have no semblance of a structure the lawmakers have repeatedly called "dysfunctional."

But on Monday, McCormick's tone had softened after he said he had heard from Phyllis Miller, a physician and Erlanger trustee, and the Chattanooga and Hamilton County Medical Society.

"I think we will come up with a system where we have physicians who are voting members," he said. "We've heard their concerns and we want to work with them."

Legislators originally said their plan would shrink the board from 12 members to nine, with two of those seats being assigned to a physician and an educator who would not have voting authority.

However, there was no stipulation about who the seven voting members should be. There was no guarantee a physician would be selected as a voting member, nor was there proposed language specifically excluding a physician from being chosen to serve as a voting member.

"This just sent a strong message that doctors are not considered important in the decision-making process on the board," Miller said.

She and other board members were blindsided last week by news that legislation revamping the board would be introduced this week as trustees drew to the end of their search for a new CEO. However, she said the board will proceed with filling the position as soon as possible.

"We feel like [the bill] was an ulterior motive to interfere in the search," Miller said. "[The legislators] may not have been aware that this could destroy the process we started last April. We could lose some very qualified candidates who read about everything that's going on."

None of the three final CEO candidates have dropped out of the running, including apparent front-runner, Kevin Spiegel, who is the CEO of Methodist University Hospital and an assistant professor with the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, she said.

McCormick has been wary of UTCOM influence, vowing that as long as he is "living and breathing and in the Legislature," he would never let UTCOM take control of Erlanger. But on Monday, McCormick said that some of his worries were eased somewhat after he spoke with Spiegel over the weekend about the candidate's hopes for the hospital's future.

"When I talked to him, he seemed to reassure me that he does want it to stay a community hospital," McCormick said. "I was encouraged by the conversation."

The lawmakers said they hope to hash out the details of the new bill this week, and that it will be heard by the House's local government committee as early as next week. Both are hopeful the bill will pass by mid-February.

Part of the fine-tuning of the bill's language will involve Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, who will be meeting with McCormick and members of the delegation to iron out details.

As it stands now, the new board members will initially be selected by Coppinger and the delegation. After that, board members themselves will select replacements, instead of leaving appointments to political bodies such as city and county mayors.

Coppinger said he and the delegation had not yet discussed potential board members, but the composition "may very well" include physicians, even if the bill does not include specific seats for them.

Meanwhile, some Hamilton County commissioners say they want the commission to be more directly involved in the initial selection process.

"I would like to see a more open and transparent selection by a committee with one or two commissioners, as opposed to just the county mayor selecting seven people," said County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who emailed state legislators this weekend.

He said he wants to make "political cronyism" is taken out of the trustee selection process.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he also wants to see the commission have a more hands-on role in at least part of the appointment process.

Coppinger said regardless of who appoints or how trustees are appointed, "this will be an extremely transparent process."

Whether the commission is directly involved in the selection process, they will still have an key role in the restructuring process.

Once the bill is passed in the legislature, it will head to the commission, where it will have to be approved by a two-thirds majority before it can be implemented.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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