Erlanger Health System trustees gave final approval Thursday to a resolution outsourcing the hospital's security to Chattanooga-based Walden Security at the hospital's monthly board meeting.
Seven members of the hospital's current security force abruptly left the meeting room after the unanimous vote, which came after more than a week of protest from security officers picketing outside Erlanger hospital. They have claimed that the bid process that selected Walden was unfair and that the move to outsource security will compromise hospital safety and put their jobs at risk.
Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson, chief operating officer, said the move ensures Erlanger has a "sustainable" security force at a time when it's become increasingly difficult for the hospital to manage its own in-house security team.
Andrew Stinnett, a Chattanooga attorney who represents some of the security officers, said he planned to speak at the Thursday meeting about his clients' concerns.
But he was advised Thursday by legal counsel for Erlanger he would not be allowed to speak at the meeting because under Tennessee Annotated Code, security issues are confidential.
At the meeting, Erlanger board members did not consider any resolutions relating to a proposed management agreement with Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe, although the possibility had been on the table until Thursday afternoon, Erlanger board members said.
Under a proposal under discussion, Erlanger would put up $20 million to help the struggling community hospital get back on its feet, at which point Hutcheson could repay that loan.
But discord among Hutcheson players - from Hutcheson's four decision-making boards to leaders of the counties Hutcheson serves, Walker, Dade and Catoosa - has delayed any votes on a final proposal.
After the meeting board Chairman Dan Quarles said Erlanger trustees won't vote until he is certain all parties involved on Hutcheson's side are in agreement on all provisions of the proposal, including a guarantee of Erlanger's investment in Hutcheson.
Leaders of Hutcheson's operating board have blamed Walker County leaders for holding up negotiations. The three counties appoint trustees to the board of the Hospital Authority of Walker, Dade and Catoosa County, which owns the hospital.
But Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell has said county representatives were left out of negotiations until recently and aren't yet happy with the agreement on the table, which puts North Georgia taxpayers at risk if Hutcheson can't pay back Erlanger.
The guarantee of Erlanger's investment is a critical point in negotiations, Quarles said after the board meeting.
"When we started negotiations, that was primary in my mind," he said.
Don Oliver, Walker County attorney, said he met Thursday with Erlanger's legal counsel to discuss changes to the agreement that Heiskell suggested last week.
"We had a very amiable and productive work session of about three hours, which we feel confident will be the first steps in the final lap of this race to strike a working partnership deal between Hutcheson, Erlanger, and the tri-counties," Oliver said in an e-mail.