Tennessee bill would cut Hamilton County Erlanger contribution

Tennessee bill would cut Hamilton County Erlanger contribution

February 14th, 2013 by Kate Harrison Belz in Local Regional News

The Erlanger Medical Center is seen in this aerial photo.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

The bill reworking Erlanger hospital's governance structure guarantees only a third of what the hospital received in local public funding two years ago.

The bill, which is expected to be passed by the Tennessee Legislature in March, obligates Hamilton County to set aside at least $1 million for the hospital for at least five years. After that, the amount would be adjusted according to the consumer price index.

Since 1976, Chattanooga and the county had together put aside $3 million toward the hospital each year for indigent care, in accordance with the sales tax agreement between the two bodies.

Erlanger lost the city's half of the funding after Chattanooga council members voted to let the agreement expire in 2011. The county continued to earmark its annual $1.5 for the hospital, but declined to pick up the city's share.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said that the county continued to pay its half for the indigent care of inmates, but that after the sales tax agreement expired, it was never obligated to pay a particular amount.

There was "no scientific reason" for the $1 million figure, he said, but he and the local legislative delegation thought it was appropriate contribution for the indigent care of inmates.

"This was an opportunity to totally redo the act, and that [$1 million] figure was what was mutually agreed upon by our office and the delegation," said Coppinger.

Erlanger executive staff members chose not to comment on a potential funding cut Wednesday.

"We feel it would be premature for us to respond until we complete our review of the act," hospital officials said in a statement.

The mayor said he had not heard complaints from any hospital officials about the figure.

The county's annual contribution is already just a fraction of Erlanger's estimated $90 million worth of indigent care, but Erlanger officials have indicated in the past that the money is critical.

During county budget talks last year, Erlanger's interim CEO, Charlsetta Woodward-Thompson, asked the county to restore the full $3 million in funding, newspaper archives show.

"We don't have two levels of care," she said at the time. "That means we have to offset what we're doing in uncompensated care."