published Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Third Erlanger executive gets severance package

Erlanger Hospital is located on 3rd Street in Chattanooga.
Erlanger Hospital is located on 3rd Street in Chattanooga.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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EXECUTIVE SEVERANCE

Jim Brexler: The former CEO left Dec. 31. Received $713,000 paid out over 15 months, plus health coverage worth about $15,000.

Doug Fisher: The former vice president of government affairs, marketing and community relations left Jan. 13. Received lump sum of $157,014 and four months health coverage.

Dr. Keith Helton: Left Jan. 20 and received lump sum of $92,492.50.

Source: Erlanger

A severance package for a third senior Erlanger Health System executive brings to nearly $1 million the amount the hospital has agreed to pay out to former employees in this year.

Dr. Keith Helton, who was senior vice president of physician services until last fall, was given a six-month severance of $92,492, according to his Jan. 22 separation agreement.

That came atop a $157,014 severance given to Doug Fisher, Erlanger's vice president of government affairs, marketing and community relations, when he left Jan. 13.

CEO Jim Brexler, who hired Fisher and later married Fisher's daughter, was given a $728,000 severance package to be paid over 15 months when he left Dec. 31.

Erlanger is implementing a labor-management plan designed to rein in costs. In January, officials eliminated six vice president positions out of 15, with an estimated savings of $1.6 million.

Reductions in midlevel management will be made next, officials have said.

The hospital lost $10.3 million in the first six months of the fiscal year, which hospital officials blame partially on a decline in surgeries.

January financial figures will be released on Monday.

Helton, an internal medicine specialist, said Wednesday he took the voluntary severance agreement so he could return full time to his work at Galen Medical Group.

Even though his contract did not specifically entitle him to severance, Helton said Erlanger offered any executive who volunteered to leave a one-year-severance package.

"I only asked for six months [severance] because of the financial troubles at Erlanger," Helton said.

Brexler first hired Helton on a contract basis in August 2009 to create a network aimed to help physicians and hospitals to work together more smoothly, Helton said.

According to his contract, Helton was paid $118.58 an hour, with an annual compensation cap of $185,000. He was expected to work for Erlanger 80 percent of his time and provide written time records for time worked.

Helton said that contract no longer applied in July 2010, when Brexler tapped him to oversee physician services. That senior vice president position included recruiting physicians and working with Erlanger-employed physicians.

Helton was paid $58,167 for 41/2 months in 2009. He earned $209,945 in 2010 and $229,452 in 2011, according to Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles.

The position of senior vice president of physician services was not posted as an open position before Helton was hired, Charles said.

After a little more than a year in that post, Helton said he and Brexler agreed last fall that Helton would return to his initial job of working on a physician/hospital network.

That network was never fully achieved because of various factors, Helton said.

"It was disappointing we couldn't get there," he said. "I wanted something better for the city of Chattanooga, but it didn't work out. I'm grateful to my patients and the Galen Medical Group for giving me the flexibility to do what I did."

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about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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