published Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Erlanger land swap a win for Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chattanooga

 Chattanooga's Erlanger Hospital is seen in this aerial file photo.
Chattanooga's Erlanger Hospital is seen in this aerial file photo.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Erlanger posts loss, but better than budgeted

Erlanger Health System saw a $700,000 loss for the month of September, but came out ahead of the $800,000 loss the public hospital had originally budgeted for.

"Considering we saw more in indigent care than we expected, and that we lost [state and federal] funds, I'd say we held the line quite well," said Erlanger's Chief Financial Officer Britt Tabor after the hospital's budget and finance committee meeting Monday.

Year-to-date, the hospital is operating at a near-$700,000 loss, while officials had budgeted for a $5 million loss for this point in the fiscal year.

The hospital provided $5.7 million in uncompensated care in September.

Erlanger taps Florida executive as new COO

A 20-year-veteran of the health care management field has been tapped as the new chief operating officer at Erlanger Health System.

Robert M. Brooks is currently a hospital executive for Health Management Associates (HMA) which operates more than 70 hospitals nationwide, according to a news release from Erlanger.

Brooks comes to Chattanooga from St. Cloud Regional Medical Center near Orlando, Fla., where he serves as chief executive officer.

"With his impressive background in both clinical and nonclinical leadership positions, Robert will be a tremendous asset to Erlanger's executive team, our academic mission, this community and those we serve," Erlanger President and CEO Kevin Spiegel said in the release.

Brooks is board-certified in health care management and is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, and he is also a registered nurse and an EMT-Paramedic, the release stated.

Before his CEO position in Florida, Brooks was the COO at Central Mississippi Medical Center, one of HMA's largest hospitals. He also served as vice president of operations and Centers of Excellence for Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, the campus where Spiegel was CEO before coming to Erlanger this year.

Brooks is expected to begin his duties at Erlanger in mid-November. His salary will be $400,000.

A unanimous vote from an Erlanger Health System committee has paved the way for the hospital and city to keep their promise to the community to turn five acres of Lincoln Park property into a historical park.

The hospital's planning committee voted Monday to swap the property, which is located behind the hospital in the historic Lincoln Park neighborhood, with the city in return for the city giving the hospital about eight acres of land in Alton Park to be used for the future construction of a new Southside Community Health Center.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel originally announced in August that the hospital planned to donate the property to the city to be preserved. But the announcement was made before Erlanger board members could vote on the issue, and trustees bristled at the proposal, saying the hospital could not afford to donate the property without receiving some kind of compensation.

Erlanger trustee Dr. Phyllis Miller said she was more comfortable with the idea of the land swap.

"This sounds like a good solution to me, and I'm comfortable with it," Miller said. "It sounds like a win-win."

With the pledge to preserve Lincoln Park, hospital leaders said they hope the city can now jump-start long-held plans to create a Central Avenue extension that would reach to Amnicola Highway.

Erlanger officials said they envisioned the extension as a pipeline to the hospital.

"That will significantly improve the access to this hospital," Spiegel told the planning committee. "We've been talking about this for 15 years, and this will significantly enhance Erlanger and the access of [emergency] patients around Amnicola Highway to the hospital."

Spiegel said the Lincoln Park deal was a key element in the orchestration of the high-profile project. He said he hoped that with a deal passed, the city would take some of the next steps the mayor relayed to committee members in a closed meeting last month.

Berke's chief innovation officer, Jeff Cannon, said the city is still studying where the road will go to be in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. He said plans to construct the estimated $6 million project won't likely be ready until 2016. But he said a meeting has been called next week with the Lincoln Park community to talk about what residents would like to see with the road extension.

Meanwhile, Lincoln Park leaders say they are thrilled to finally see movement on a pledge the mayor made to them after two months of mainly feeling left in the dark.

"Its been a stressful thing," said Tiffany Rankins, secretary of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association. "But the mayor said he was going to work on our behalf and we see that he has."

The now-dilapidated land was once a historic park with a pool, amusement park and zoo for the black neighborhood dating back before desegregation. The park also housed Negro League baseball games where players such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige played.

The property the city will swap for the Lincoln Park land is on the corner of 38th Street and Ohls Avenue, by the Villages at Alton Park.

Erlanger leaders said they hoped to one day build a new Southside Community Health Center at the site. Erlanger's board must still hold a final vote Thursday before the transaction is complete.

Meanwhile, Cannon said the city doesn't look at the trade with Erlanger as a land swap. He said the plan to work with Erlanger on a community health center has been in the works for months and this was a chance to "kill two birds with one stone."

"We felt confident and still feel confident that the Lincoln Park plan, [the board] giving us the land was a sure thing, we've known it all along," he said.

Erlanger trustee Jim Worthington also said that the city had offered Alton Park land parcel -- which was once belonged to Chattanooga Glass Co. -- under former mayor Ron Littlefield's administration. But Erlanger had not yet taken action on the property since it did not have immediate plans to build.

Though Worthington said he would have preferred a different property be swapped for Lincoln Park, he said formalizing a transaction with the Alton Park property was satisfactory.

"I don't have any objection to that," he said. "We need to work on getting a new health center out there for the people of Alton Park."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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