Pam's Points: The president, Erlanger and Georgia's folly

Pam's Points: The president, Erlanger and Georgia's folly

July 26th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Welcome, Mr. President!

How exciting that President Barack Obama will visit Chattanooga.

He's taking his fight against an obstructionist Congress to the country, and it is gratifying to see him coming out swinging.

In Galesburg, Ill., on Wednesday, his words could not possibly have rung any truer:

"Washington has taken its eye off the ball, and ... this needs to stop," he said. "Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the very wealthy and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor. And so what happened was that the link between higher productivity and people's wages and salaries was broken. It used to be that, as companies did better, as profits went higher, workers also got a better deal. ... That started changing. So the income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, but the typical family's incomes barely budged."

Now "the meat cleaver called the sequester" is making the problem worse by cutting spending when the economy needs new investments. The GOP-controlled House also is damaging the nation's credit with threats of not paying government bills.

The president's message, as well as his determination to take on our do-nothing-because-it's-all-about-them Congress, is welcome and inspiring.

Go get 'em, Mr. President!

Ex-CEO takes on Erlanger

It was clear early this year that Erlanger's board members have been overly impressed with themselves. They had at least one secret meeting in December, even as local legislators were considering changes to the board's charter and urging the hospital's leaders to slow-walk naming a new CEO -- an action the board already had ignored since November of 2011 when Jim Brexler retired.

Then in February the board met in a closed 45 minute session to discuss "parliamentary procedure" before emerging to have a 16-minute meeting with two votes: One member threw out one name for CEO and moments later got a 5-3 majority vote to appoint Kevin Spiegel. Then the board took a second vote to call the first vote "unanimous."

The hospital for months had been mired in an internal civil war over leadership and whether the University of Tennessee College of Medicine should obtain control of Erlanger Health System and its dollars. Spiegel, at that time, was an assistant professor at the UT College of Medicine and the CEO of Methodist University Hospital.

Through the previous 24 months after Brexler was forced out, Charlsetta Woodard-Thompson manned the Erlanger helm as interim CEO, just as she had in 2003 after Dennis Pettigrew was forced to resign. Despite that, and despite a public show of support from physicians, her name did not even make the short list of permanent CEO candidates.

In April this year, Woodard-Thompson took a paid leave of absence for medical care only to be notified several weeks later that she had been terminated.

Now Woodard-Thompson, a black woman, claims in a $25 million lawsuit that just dismissing her was not all the trustees and other hospital officials did. She said she was forced out amid elaborate political conspiracies that involved threats against her safety, hacking her computer and racial remarks such as "medicine is a white man's world."

Woodard-Thompson said internal controversy over potential UT control of the hospital became so bitter that colleagues encouraged her to learn to shoot a gun and have a security guard escort her to and from her car at the hospital. She followed the advice, she said.

At the same time, she claims, then Erlanger in-house attorney Dale Hetzler admitted to her and another hospital executive that he accessed her email accounts and electronic data at the request of certain members of the hospital's board. He removed or deleted private and personal files, she claims. When the actions were discovered, the board terminated Hetzler, Woodard-Thompson said. Earlier this year, hospital officials reported Hetzler had resigned.

If even half of Woodard-Thompson's claims are founded, every board member -- even those who just watched -- should be forced to resign. They can use their scare tactics somewhere else.

The cost of forfeiting Common Core

Georgia this week withdrew from the a consortium tasked with creating standarized tests aligned with Common Core curriculum.

The Peach State, which ranked 44th of 50 states on its combined 2012 SAT scores, cited costs as the reason it is declining to participate. Common Core Curriculum has been a touchy issue with some lawmakers and educators saying the set of national standards are a path to a federal takeover of state education systems.

Georgia State School Superintendent John Barge said the new tests would cost Georgia about $27.5 million, eclipsing the current testing budget of $25 million.

"It's just priced us out of the game," Barge said.

Georgia's decision seems penny wise and pound foolish in a state that clearly needs higher education standards. Surely state education officials can reallocate that extra $2.5 million from somewhere else in its budget.

If Georgians think it's too costly now to adopt higher standards, wait a few years until they begin to count the cost of having lesser educated young people.