State, Hamilton County leaders hash out changes to Erlanger bill

State, Hamilton County leaders hash out changes to Erlanger bill

February 6th, 2013 by Kate Belz in Local Regional News

Chattanooga's Erlanger Hospital is seen in this aerial file photo.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.


State legislators want to have the Erlanger bill in its final form no later than next week. At that point, House Leader Gerald McCormick said it will take about three to four weeks for the bill to be passed.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is seen in this file photo.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is seen in...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

State legislators and the Hamilton County mayor's office appear to be in agreement on changes they want to a bill restructuring Erlanger hospital's governing structure.

Some of the proposed changes include expanding the number of voting board members from seven to nine, and including a way for state or county leaders to intervene in the board member nomination process if they believe it is being abused.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick met Friday to share concerns and hammer out details in the bill.

"We're all heading in the same direction," McCormick said.

When the county's legislative delegation announced the new bill in January, lawmakers said they originally wanted to shrink the board from 12 to seven members with two nonvoting members, and to ensure that the board was "self-perpetuating," choosing its own new members to depoliticize the appointment process.

McCormick also said that one seat on the board will be designated for a physician, although he said it was not yet clear how that physician would be selected.

That change was added after local doctors' groups voiced concerns that they would have no input in hospital decision-making.

The leaders also discussed how to keep the board's proposed "self-perpetuating" appointment process from becoming too political. They agreed to include a clause that would allow the county commission, legislative delegation or both to object to a board nominee.

"We do want to have a safeguard there, just in case it's needed," said McCormick, who said a process for intervention had not yet been decided.

In another development, McCormick said he met with two top leaders from the University of Tennessee, who assured him that the university would not try to take over the hospital.

McCormick said UT President Joe DiPietro and UT Health Science Center Chancellor Charles Schwab initiated the visit to McCormick's Nashville office.

"They both expressed their willingness to be helpful, and they reassured me that they do not think UT should take over," said McCormick. "They said they have no interest in making it another UT. I feel much better about their intentions at this point."

There has been concern that the UT College of Medicine would try to gain control of the hospital, since the front-runner for Erlanger's new CEO position, Methodist University Hospital CEO Kevin Spiegel, is also an assistant professor with UTCOM.

The Hamilton County Commission, which provides $1.5 million in funds to the hospital a year, must OK the final legislation.

Other requests from the county mayor's office included:

• Allow the county to continue to list jail inmates as indigents, so it will not be billed for millions of dollars in inmate care at the hospital.

• Ensure that there is a stand-alone audit conducted of the hospital by some form of independent audit committee.

• Have a clear plan and timeline set up for the transfer of power from the current Erlanger board of trustees to the new one.