Pam's Points: Erlanger gets no new local money; new police aproach sounds good

Pam's Points: Erlanger gets no new local money; new police aproach sounds good

June 9th, 2014 in Opinion Times

Chattanooga's annual Riverbend Festival is replacing their iconic pins with wristbands this year for patrons to enter the site.

Photo by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

Erlanger needs ignored by city, county

America's Essential Hospitals, a national foundation, recently reported that among the nation's public hospitals, Erlanger provides the greatest amount of safety-net care for the least amount of local government funding.

It also is the local hospital that, thanks largely to a perfect storm of health care funding changes and the state's failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, was forced to provide more than $92 million in free care in the past year -- up from $86 million in charity care the previous year.

But all that is falling on deaf ears in local government this budget cycle.

Even after voting last week to give Hamilton County more control over Erlanger Health System's board of trustees, Hamilton County leaders aren't ready to boost local financial support. The county mayor's proposed budget has the same $1.5 million contribution that the county has given the hospital for 37 years.

And for the third year in a row, Chattanooga's city budget includes no funding for Erlanger.

Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel had asked for $5 million from each group, hoping to stop a run of deficits the hospital has faced for several years.

County commissioners did help Erlanger play a legal money shell game in recent months when commissioners agreed to take $10 million in Erlanger cash and be part of what is called an intergovernmental transfer, allowing the hospital to tap into a common hospital funding mechanism and draw down an additional $20 million in federal funds to underwrite the cost of treating patients without insurance.

That draw-down allowed hospital officials to lift the freeze of the 4,500 employees' vacation time -- a desperation move Spiegel had initiated to stop losses and prevent layoffs.

Now what trick must he and other hospital leaders pull out of their sleeves because it's clear county and city leaders don't value the hospital or its charity care?

Riverbend pins vs. wristbands

Riverbend wristbands are not "cool."

Sure, sure -- they cut down on free-loaders sneaking into the festival without paying. And with their scan technology, they can give us a truer head count of festivalgoers. We get that.

But the pins -- which changed style from year to year -- were cute. Even collectible. Many of us have junk drawers cluttered with them. Our collections of Riverbend pens might be informal, but we still like the idea of capturing memories in molded plastic.

The new wristbands, however, are definitely not collectible. Not even if you like the look of hospital chic.

New era in policing?

This week hopefully will mark a new era in Chattanooga policing. Fred Fletcher will be sworn in Thursday as the city's new police chief.

The 46-year-old former Austin, Texas, police commander brings a new attitude about community policing. And there's a bonus: He will not inherit some past police baggage that led to unrest in the ranks -- pay and pension troubles. In the past year, city leaders were able to preserve the police and fire departments' defined-benefit pension plan, and the new proposed fiscal budget includes money to fix an officer pay disparity.

As for community policing changes, Fletcher brings with him a belief that one-size-fits-all policing doesn't work well, and he's right.

He wants officers and residents to recognize that each neighborhood in the city is different and police should adjust to their surroundings and work in ways that provide the most help to the people there.

At the same time city administrators are making more public records available online, Fletcher plans to share crime data with city neighborhood associations to work with them on solutions to neighborhood challenges.

Welcome to Chattanooga, Chief. We wish you well.