Contentious severance pay decision for Erlanger's Brexler

Contentious severance pay decision for Erlanger's Brexler

January 11th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

For well over a century, the people in our broad tri-state region have been fortunate to have Erlanger as a capable, trusted and high-quality public hospital.

But while it has served area residents well, Erlanger has faced a variety of financial, personnel and other challenges throughout its long history.

Some of those challenges were highlighted by the hotly debated decision by Erlanger's trustees this week to approve a $728,000 severance package for departing CEO Jim Brexler.

The board was sharply divided on whether Brexler was entitled to the package, which includes 15 months of severance plus his health coverage for 18 months -- though he will continue paying the employee portion of the coverage.

Running a medical facility the size of Erlanger is an unimaginably complicated endeavor, and so it should scarcely come as a surprise that opinions differ on Brexler's tenure.

Those differences were reflected in the board's 5-4 vote in favor of paying the severance. (Board members had previously accepted Brexler's resignation but deadlocked 4-4 on severance.)

Supporters of the severance said they felt the contract with Brexler entitled him to it.

Opponents have cited unreleased results of a survey of Erlanger physicians in arguing that doctors at the hospital were unsatisfied with Brexler's leadership. They suggested that they would have had cause to fire him, which would have denied him the severance pay.

Probably not lost on anyone on either side of the discussion is the painful fact that Erlanger has had recent losses in the millions of dollars and is trying to cut labor costs.

If there is any silver lining to this situation, it is that there appears to be strong resolve to get behind interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson to address Erlanger's financial and other challenges.

"We are 100 percent united," board Chairman Ronald Loving said, "in support of our interim CEO and working on improving our numbers."

That timely, appropriate focus may not provide a great deal of comfort amid Erlanger's immediate difficulties, but it will yield long-term benefits.