published Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Charlsetta Woodward-Thompson cut from Erlanger CEO shortlist

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.

WHAT'S NEXT

In January, the three finalists will visit Erlanger for the next stage of the interview process. The 10-member board will decide whom to hire. A new CEO likely will be named by March, said board chairman Ron Loving, who is also on the search committee.

The short list for Erlanger Health System's new CEO no longer includes its two-time interim chief executive — much to the dismay of doctors, community leaders and some board members.

After months of work, the hospital's search committee announced Thursday that Charlsetta Woodward-Thompson is not among the three finalists for the hospital's top job.

That news did not go over well with physicians, Erlanger employees and leaders from the black community who packed a meeting room in support of Woodward-Thompson.

Some board members complained they were kept in the dark about the selection of the finalists until the last minute and that the search process is moving too fast, especially in light of the progress Erlanger is making under the interim CEO.

Doctors and other clinicians asked that the CEO search be suspended temporarily because Woodward-Thompson's team had "calmed turbulent times" and brought new stability to the hospital.

"We are very concerned that the disruption of the positive momentum would be a major problem at this time," Dr. Paul Apyan said, reading from a letter written by physicians.

Woodward-Thompson has served as interim CEO since Jim Brexler resigned a year ago. She also served as interim CEO in 2003-2004, before Brexler was hired.

Trustee and search committee member Kim White said she heard the support for Woodward-Thompson "with open ears," but defended the selection of the finalists.

"We have a committee of nine people, and the committee has chosen these candidates based on what the organization needed to move forward," said White.

She and other search committee members declined to give specific details about the decision not to choose Woodward-Thompson.

While the finalists have not been identified publicly, board members confirmed they are not local.

That worries Irvin Overton, who has served as Erlanger's interim president and CEO three times without being appointed permanently.

Woodward-Thompson has proven herself, he said. Erlanger's finances have stabilized, and morale and physician relations are improving, he said.

"Why not give a local person this opportunity?" said Overton, who turned out with Urban League representatives to back Woodward-Thompson.

"If you look at the track record of bringing in people from the outside -- the resignations from the physicians, the financial troubles, the poor morale -- it is much more productive right now," he added.

Trustee Michael Griffin, who only learned of the finalists right before the meeting, said he was "very, very moved" by the statements from the physicians and community leaders.

"I wish that forum last night could have occurred two months ago," Griffin said. "The whole board thinks the world of Charlsetta, and that's what makes it so difficult."

Several trustees voted against White's motion to affirm the selection process.

"I was given the names of these candidates only minutes before the motion to affirm the whole process was made," trustee Russell King said. "I couldn't do it without more information about this process and these candidates."

Woodward-Thompson submitted her name for consideration for the post earlier this year. In August, a number of doctors affiliated with Erlanger confirmed to the Times Free Press a petition supporting her as CEO. While she was interviewed during the selection process, she was told the week of Thanksgiving that she had not made the final cut, several board members said.

Trustees hired Witt/Kieffer in August and agreed to pay up to $195,000 plus expenses for assistance in the CEO search.

Woodward-Thompson's salary as interim CEO is $486,737. Brexler, who led the hospital for eight years, earned $550,000 when he left. He had received annual bonuses as high as $192,000 during his tenure.

Staff writer Shelly Bradbury contributed to this story.

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