published Friday, December 21st, 2012

Erlanger told to slow CEO search

The Erlanger Medical Center is seen in this aerial photo.
The Erlanger Medical Center is seen in this aerial photo.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ERLANGER CEO FINALISTS

Rear Adm. Donald R. Gintzig: Serves on both active and reserve duty for "one of the nation's largest and most integrated health systems" as senior health care executive for the U.S. Navy. Former CEO for United Health Group in Minneapolis, Minn., and president and CEO of Middle Tennessee Medical Center in Murfreesboro.

Ken D. Haynes: Former CEO of St. Joseph Health System in central and eastern Kentucky. Previous CEO of St. Vincent Health System in Little Rock, Ark., and assistant administrator of Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis.

Kevin M. Spiegel: Oversees Methodist University Hospital and is also an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center College of Medicine. Previous president and CEO for Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, Ohio.

McCormick letter to Chairman Loving
McCormick letter to Chairman Loving

Hamilton County's state lawmakers are telling Erlanger trustees to hold off on hiring a new hospital CEO because the 1976 law that set up the hospital is going to be overhauled in the coming year.

"This hire is critically important to the success of the hospital," House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, wrote to Erlanger board Chairman Ron Loving in a letter dated Wednesday.

"I feel that a prudent delay will allow the Board of Trustees to have a clear understanding of how this legislation will impact the role of the chief executive officer."

Loving said he had seen the letter Thursday afternoon and that trustees would probably call a special meeting in the first week of January to decide on a response.

He said the board is "thankful" the local lawmakers "recognize the value of Erlanger to the community, and we appreciate Leader McCormick's support and interest."

McCormick told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the lawmakers are concerned about the hospital's direction and future.

"I think most people in the community can agree there have been issues at Erlanger, and often they seem to involve the board of directors and the way it is set up now," McCormick said.

"We are reviewing whether that is still the best way to have a board operate in the current, very competitive and fast-changing medical atmosphere."

When three finalists for the CEO position were named earlier this month, some trustees criticized the process and said they'd had only minutes before the board voted to affirm the process.

Some trustees and doctors also were dismayed that interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson's name wasn't on the list of finalists.

The board ignored requests to slow or halt the search process and voted to move ahead with interviews of the three finalists, with an expected hire in March.

Earlier this year, local lawmakers passed a bill adding one trustee to the 11-member board. They spoke then about a comprehensive look at the Hospital Authority Act that set up Erlanger.

McCormick said he and others have been working on the process all this time.

"We've considered everything from doing nothing to turning it into a private hospital," he said. "We're not going to turn it into a private hospital, but I think we're going to lean toward reforming the board in some way."

He added that local control is paramount.

"It does concern me that Erlanger remain a local hospital that is not dominated by any other institution," he said.

Several Erlanger trustees did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. Dr. Paul Apyan, who was among physicians pressing for a delay in hiring at the early December board meeting, said through a spokesman Thursday he could not comment.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the act "may need to be amended or totally restructured."

"I support the idea of the delegation taking a look at it to see if there's anything we can do to improve it, and I appreciate Leader McCormick taking the lead on this," he said. "Something all of us can agree on is that Erlanger is extremely important not only to the county but the region."

Sen.-elect Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said the board is ripe for reform and that local officials -- including whoever is elected Chattanooga mayor in March -- should be part of the discussion.

Gardenhire focused on the makeup of the board -- its 12 members include, besides the Erlanger chief of staff, one appointed by the county's two Chancery Court judges, one by the local medical society and one by the county legislative delegation, plus four each appointed by the city and county.

"Whoever set this thing up years ago decided to give everybody a piece of the pie, make everybody happy," Gardenhire said.

But he questioned, for instance, whether Chattanooga should retain its seats since the city stopped giving the hospital money.

"If the city elected officials decide they don't want to support Erlanger, they should have no say in how it's run. You pay to play," he said.

City Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd could not be reached for comment.

Gardenhire, whose former wife served on the Erlanger board, said its members have a history of micromanaging the hospital.

There needs to be a "very serious look at board governances so there's a well-defined mission of the board vs. mission of the administration," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, as a way to "get out of the mess this current board has made," he suggested giving Woodard-Thompson a "two or three-year contract with a six-month exit clause" to run Erlanger while the restructuring is worked out.

"I've heard from several people whose opinions I trust and value that Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson has done a pretty good job given what she had to work with," he said. "Let's let her do what's necessary to clean up the mess that she inherited."

Loving, asked whether that was possible, didn't reply directly. But he did compliment Woodard-Thompson's performance. As interim CEO, she's gotten credit for starting the hospital back on the track to fiscal health.

"There is nobody on our board that questions the value of the contribution of Charlesetta; she's been key to our success," he said.

"One common theme all of us are concerned about is making sure we're able to provide continued quality care to the patients -- that's first and foremost."

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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