Erlanger at Hutcheson board changes proposed

Erlanger at Hutcheson board changes proposed

March 9th, 2012 by Mariann Martin in News

Chattanooga Times Free Press file photo of Erlanger at Hutcheson building.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Proposed changes for Erlanger at Hutcheson's tri-county hospital authority board would increase the number of trustees and change how they are appointed.

All three counties - Catoosa, Dade and Walker - must approve changes. Catoosa County officials call the moves reasonable and necessary, but Dade and Walker officials said Thursday they have not discussed the issue and need more information before acting.

The hospital authority - the governing board for Hutcheson, which has lost millions of dollars in the last year - now has nine members: four from Walker, three from Catoosa and two from Dade.

One proposed change would give Walker and Catoosa five trustees and Dade three. The other gives county commissions more power over board appointments.

Catoosa County commissioners approved the resolutions Friday at a special meeting, then sent them to the other counties' lawyers and to local lawmakers, Catoosa County Attorney Skip Patty said.

Hutcheson was taken over by Erlanger Health System last year and has a new CEO, Roger Forgey. When Erlanger assumed management and began lending the hospital money last year, Walker and Catoosa counties pledged $10 million each to back the loans.

So giving Catoosa an equal number of trustees "seems only fair," Patty said Thursday. "Catoosa County is equally dedicated in the Erlanger deal; it has $10 million in taxpayers' money at stake."

Catoosa and Walker now have about equal populations, as well, Patty said.

But Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said she wants to know why the change is needed before she will agree to back it.

Catoosa authorities did not ask her before passing the resolutions, she said, and she only learned about them in the local newspaper, she said.

"I do not want [Catoosa] to feel left out, but I'd say everything is working pretty smoothly right now," Heiskell said. "I'm not saying I'm against it, but if it is to get rid of people or kick someone off the board, I don't want it. But I'll need to know more before I can decide."

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley said county commissioners likely would take up the joint resolution at their April meeting. He said any changes should be made slowly and with everyone's input.

"This has been written in stone since sometime back in the 1940s. I don't think we should just change it without putting some thought into it," he said.

The resolution on the number of trustees would take effect when all three counties approved it. The second, to change the process for board appointments, would require state legislation.

Under guidelines in place since 1982, the authority is given three names and can pick one or reject all three. If the authority rejects all three, the county commissions must supply three more nominees and the board must select one of those, Patty said.

The proposed change would allow commissioners to choose the nominees for each trustee position and require the authority to accept them.

"The Board of Commissioners finds that the present method for filling vacancies ... is not satisfactory in that it lends to creating self-perpetuating boards outside any control of the governing authorities of the three counties," the resolution says.

Catoosa County Commissioner Bobby Winters said the Hutcheson authority frequently has rejected Catoosa appointees in recent years.

"I think they should take whoever we send; we wouldn't send them somebody we wouldn't want to serve on the board," Winters said.

State Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, said he is talking to county officials and other lawmakers about writing a bill to make the change to appointees. If everyone approves, he likely will have a proposed bill ready next week, he said.