David Cook: Meet Kevin M. Spiegel

David Cook: Meet Kevin M. Spiegel

February 1st, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Who, exactly, is Kevin M. Spiegel?

Or rather: Who will he become?

Here's what we know: Spiegel, who looks a little like Dave Matthews with glasses, is the current head of Methodist University Hospital in Memphis. Been there since 2008. Before that, he was the chief operating officer of a 350-bed hospital in Ohio.

Most importantly to us, he's at the top of a very short list, a gambler's choice on who will be offered the CEO job at Erlanger hospital.

But others may fear he's a Trojan horse. We open our gates, Spiegel settles in, and then begins to paint the hospital orange.

In Memphis, Spiegel works closely with UT College of Medicine. So if he comes here, some fear, Spiegel would usher into place an unbalanced relationship where, like a see-saw, UT would rise much higher than Erlanger.

"I absolutely am opposed to UT taking over Erlanger hospital, and as long as I'm living and breathing and in the Legislature, I'll do everything in my power to make sure that does not happen," House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, has said.

McCormick sounds like a Corleone. Or a Bama fan. Or ... a very concerned legislator.

This over-my-dead-body statement draws a line in the sand, and in the most recent chapter of the Erlanger saga, the newest question is: Will Spiegel be able to cross it?

Wednesday night, McCormick called a meeting with Spiegel and other legislators. To clear the air.

"I thought the meeting was wonderful," said Spiegel yesterday. "I thought that they were engaged. They were interested in the positive future of Erlanger."

During our Thursday afternoon phone call, Spiegel spoke multiple times how hopeful he is for the future of Erlanger.

And that he is a part of it.

"It is something I want to do," he said.

So, is he the man for the job?

"I am still a candidate," he said. "I have not been offered anything."

For months, our Nashville legislators have said they wanted to restructure the Erlanger board, reducing it from a politically appointed 12-member board to a smaller, nine-person board that, after the legislators appoint the initial seven members, would function in a self-perpetuating way.

But running on a parallel track is the Erlanger CEO search. Both have come close to colliding.

The board is ready to appoint a CEO (read: Spiegel).

The Legislature is ready to disband the current board and build a new one. (Read: before the end of March).

So, there is a freakish chance that Spiegel could be appointed next week, sign his contract, and then within another month or two, get fired by a new board, and then receive severance pay ... all without ever stepping foot in Chattanooga.

"I don't think that is what is going to happen," Spiegel said. "What was talked about yesterday in a public meeting is that there was going to be some additions or some subtractions [to the board]. Maybe a couple of different people on the board. In the scheme of things, it is probably a healthy process."

McCormick's mama-bear protectiveness of Erlanger is admirable, as this century-old Chattanooga tradition is more important than most of us can fathom. If the hospital goes down, a corner of our city goes down, and McCormick is right to question any and all threats to it.

But perhaps critics are also seeing threats that aren't there. Like a Bush Doctrine pre-emptive strike, has McCormick been trying to keep Spiegel away from Chattanooga to keep UT away from Chattanooga?

And now, after Wednesday night's meeting, has that been resolved?

Perhaps no one is thinking of these things more than Spiegel himself.

"I think everything is about leadership," he said. "It is about understanding academic medicine and the role that plays in a community. I know that the relationship isn't in the best place right now. But that doesn't need to stay that way forever.

"Experience and sound leadership working together can bring a strong future."

Nashville legislators have initially suggested that doctors will have a voice on the board but not necessarily a vote. I asked Spiegel if he thought such caution is warranted.

"Why?" he responded. "Physicians have a greater stake in the medical center. They should have a voice on the board. They are the ones who write the prescriptions ... they put themselves in harm's way for us. They should have a seat at the table."

Will Spiegel be there, too?