Erlanger tab for Ritz-Carlton services climbs

Erlanger tab for Ritz-Carlton services climbs

September 25th, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

Erlanger Hospital

Erlanger Health System has paid Ritz-Carlton $430,500 for customer service instruction, records show, not $388,000 as hospital officials told the Chattanooga Times Free Press earlier this month.

Through a hospital spokeswoman, Chief Nursing Officer Lynn Whisman said when she originally spoke with the newspaper, she was "in her car, on her cellphone, and did not have specifics" with her "which may explain slight discrepancies."

Besides managing luxury hotels, Ritz-Carlton has a Washington, D.C.-based "corporate university" that focuses on customer service in different fields, officials said.

Erlanger ranks last among Chattanooga's three major hospitals in federal patient satisfaction statistics maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The measures explore quality communication, cleanliness and staff responsiveness, among other categories.

Lynn Whisman of Erlanger

Lynn Whisman of Erlanger

Along with presentation costs, Erlanger must pay for all travel items reported by the Ritz team, including "air travel, ground travel, hotel accommodations, Internet access, meals, tips and all other reasonable expenses," according to contracts obtained last week.

In January, Ritz officials spent six hours observing Erlanger operations and eight hours showing their presentation to executives for a fee of $35,000, or $2,500 an hour.

An additional $107,500 went toward "culture advisory services," the contracts state.

In October, a Ritz-Carlton "service excellence" expert will hold 12 three-hour sessions - the hospital initially said they were four hours each - titled "Back to Basics." Each session will hold 400 employees, and the bill for all 12 sessions is $288,000, records show.

Whisman has said Ritz-Carlton plans to focus on medically related training, but also "simple stuff - interpersonal skills that make a difference. It's not rocket science." She cited eye contact as an example.

The public hospital has prohibited the media from attending the sessions, citing proprietary information that Ritz-Carlton prefers to keep confidential. Further, the contracts prohibit Erlanger from distributing the lessons being taught "in any format or media."

The hospital has allocated an additional $71,000 toward unscheduled customer service training for physicians, bringing the potential total that Erlanger will pay Ritz-Carlton to $501,500.

Russell King, an Erlanger trustee, said he realized the partnership may appear "ostentatious," adding "it would be a shame if we learned the lessons for six months or a year and then went back to old habits."

"We want to be No. 1 in customer service, and that's what Ritz-Carlton really concentrates on," he said.

Connect with the Times Free Press on Facebook