Even after voting this week to give Hamilton County more control over Erlanger Health System's board of trustees, county leaders aren't ready to boost local financial support for the public hospital.
The 2015 budget County Mayor Jim Coppinger unveiled Wednesday had the same the $1.5 million contribution the county has given the hospital for 37 years. And for the third year in a row, Chattanooga's city budget included no funding for Erlanger, despite hospital leaders' pleas for $5 million from each government.
America's Essential Hospitals - a national foundation for public hospitals - recently reported that in the nation, Erlanger is the largest public hospital with the least amount of local public funding.
But Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel said Wednesday the news wasn't a letdown, especially since the hospital, helped by the county, recently acquired access to a $30 million federal funding pool.
"We've wanted to keep our eye on that as the big ball, and not to get tripped up on smaller issues," said Spiegel, who said access to the pool has already vastly improved Erlanger's bottom line.
City officials said access to new money was one factor in its decision not to contribute to the hospital. Another was legislation that strips the city's representation on the board, said Mayor Andy Berke's spokeswoman, Lacie Stone.
Coppinger also said the $1.5 million line item for Erlanger should not come as a surprise.
"We will continue to try to help them, but we had talked early on that we were only at this time going to be able to fund them at the $1.5 million. That will be no surprise," he said.
Spiegel said questions of local funding will be addressed in legislation Erlanger hopes to revive next year allowing the hospital board to create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to govern hospital affairs.
"I'm looking at this in phases," he said. "We're looking forward to looking at the governance and to really look at how local support affects that."
County commissioners passed a resolution Wednesday approving a law that will shrink Erlanger's board from 12 to 11 members and change the appointment process.
The county mayor will get six appointments and the county's legislative delegation will get four. Erlanger's chief of staff will also serve as a trustee.
The most pressing question going forward is what will happen with two current vacancies that were previously held by city appointees.
According to the law, one will be filled by the delegation while Coppinger will pick the other. But Coppinger said he planned to ask whether the lawmakers should select both seats, since the county already has four appointees on the board and the delegation has none.
State Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, chairman of the local delegation, said he will call a meeting of the delegation within the next week to discuss filling the hospital board's vacancies.
"I would certainly hope we have replacements by the fall," he said.
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