published Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Erlanger remake dies in Hamilton County Commission

The Erlanger Baroness campus.
The Erlanger Baroness campus.
Photo by Staff File Photo.
IN OTHER BUSINESS

• Commissioners voted to form a three-member audit committee.

• At 4 p.m. the application process for Juvenile Court Judge candidates closed. Commissioners have received applications from Curtis Bowe, Blair Cannon, Christy Jindra, Troy McDougal, Rob Philyaw, Ron Powers, Rachel Wright, Robert Davis, Lisa Bowman and John Brooks.

Hamilton County commissioners opted to pull the plug Wednesday on legislation to reform Erlanger Health System's governing body.

Despite passing the state's House and Senate, and being signed last month by Gov. Bill Haslam, the private act needed six votes from the commission to live. It didn't even get a motion at Wednesday's commission meeting.

State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who helped birth the legislation and spearheaded it through the General Assembly this year, kept a civil tongue about the commission's decision.

"I'm surprised and disappointed at what the commission did, and I hope they would reconsider their action," McCormick said.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, the Senate sponsor, was less reserved.

"You know the very reason we did what we did was to get the politics out of it. This proves that some people don't want that," Gardenhire said.

The legislation would have cut the hospital board from 12 members to nine and created term limits for trustees.

It would have created a self-perpetuating board with initial members recommended by local legislators "after consultation" with Hamilton County's mayor. The seven-member Hamilton County legislative delegation and the Hamilton County Commission would have joint veto power over appointments.

It would have locked Hamilton County into paying the hospital $1 million a year for five years, then increasing that amount according to the Consumer Price Index, a measurement of changes in retail prices in a variety of goods.

County commissioners couldn't go along with those two points.

"As long as we are funding something, we should have a little bit of say-so about appointments," Commissioner Chester Bankston said as the commission's legal committee met before Wednesday's voting session.

The legal committee recommended that the full commission not ratify the legislation.

Committee Chairman Jim Fields said the two main sticking points were too much to get over.

"I think they put a lot of good stuff in there, but they fell a little short," Fields said.

Gardenhire said the commission shouldn't have appointment rights on the initial board, and the money it gives the hospital for indigent care is miniscule compared to the health system's costs.

"When you talk about taking care of uncompensated care, they are not stepping up to the plate," Gardenhire said.

The county now contributes $1.5 million per year to the hospital to help offset the cost of indigent care. Hospital officials said Erlanger provided $85 million in uncompensated care last year.

The reform bill would have reduced the county's financial obligation for years to come, Gardenhire said.

"They were getting a great deal, and they really don't have skin in the game," he said.

McCormick said Wednesday the private act is dead without the commission's support. But he said it may be possible to get a full bill reorganizing the hospital before the General Assembly this session, bypassing the commission.

Gardenhire said he would have to do some research before attempting a new bill -- but said it might be worth looking into.

"If they don't want to pay, that's fine -- just get out of the way," Gardenhire said.

Ron Loving, board chairman, said his only reaction to the legislation's end is that the current board would stay focused on what is best for the hospital.

"I have a high level of confidence that [the board] will continue to work with the best interest of Erlanger," he said.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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