published Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Hamilton County health centers try to make ends meet in wake of lawsuit

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.

Working to get through a blizzard of paperwork aimed at straightening out its position with federal health authorities and keeping a $2 million federal grant, board members of the Southside-Dodson Avenue Community Health Center nonetheless took time for questions Wednesday.

Members held a special meeting to approve 10 documents that have to be submitted to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration by the end of the month.

But no rubber stamps were in sight. Board members closely questioned the papers brought by Joe Winick, senior vice president of strategy and business development for Erlanger Health Systems.

Why is the organizational chart put together like this? Who reports to whom?

Explain how Erlanger makes up the health centers' financial losses.

What are we doing to repair a much-criticized after-hours program for children's health care? How will the peer review program work, and why haven't we been doing it before now?

"As a board, we can't delegate our oversight to others," member Carmen Ware said during the lengthy meeting Wednesday at the Dodson Avenue center.

Winick welcomed the questions and told board members they were making progress.

"We have had an absence of activity going on. We're pedaling as fast as we can to catch up," Winick said.

The flurry of action is related to the lawsuit Erlanger filed this week against the former contracted manager for the health centers, Cherokee Health Systems.

Erlanger claims the Kentucky-based company mismanaged the health centers and failed to prepare for a scheduled and long-expected site visit by the Health Resources and Services Administration in August 2012.

The resulting poor inspection score threatened the health centers' HRSA grant, and the lawsuit claims the centers lost millions under Cherokee management. Erlanger is seeking repayment of more than $325,000 it paid Cherokee for nine months of the contract.

Cherokee officials were not available for comment Wednesday night after the board meeting.

Winick said Feb. 28 is the end of a 60-day period the federal health agency gave the health centers to catch up on nearly a dozen reports vital to the inspection process. The board members approved the final batch of papers Wednesday.

He said he and center officials had brought the HRSA up to date in a phone conversation Friday.

"I think the federal government is very much aware of the work we have done," he said.

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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