Erlanger chief nursing executive retires from health system

Staff photo by Tim Barber / Jan Keys of Erlanger Health System is retiring.

Jan Keys, Erlanger Health System's chief nursing executive, has announced her retirement from the public health system, according to an internal message to employees.

"Jan has been a true servant leader at Erlanger for more than nine years, and undertaken this challenging role with the utmost professionalism, integrity and grace. She has demonstrated deep loyalty to our organization and mission, and made many tough decisions with dignity and fortitude," Erlanger CEO Dr. Will Jackson said in the message. "Having been in a few foxholes with Jan over the years, I know firsthand of her work ethic, which is second to none. I am proud to have been her colleague, and am personally in her debt for her contributions and counsel the past several years."

Rachel Harris took over as interim chief nursing executive for Erlanger effective Monday, according to the message.

"Rachel has worked at Erlanger for more than two decades, and has an exemplary track record in both bedside nursing and nursing leadership roles at Erlanger throughout her tenure here," Jackson said.

The change in leadership comes as at least one Erlanger nurse is upset with working conditions and staff cutbacks and is trying to unionize nurses at Chattanooga's biggest hospital.

Jeff Holland, a licensed practical nurse at Erlanger for the past three years, sent a letter to Erlanger management in June outlining his concerns and telling about his union organizing efforts, which helps protect him from being fired for his plans.

In his letter to management, Holland contended that hospital officials "seem to be concerned only with making or saving money (even if it's at the expense of those working on the front lines) and lording control over the staff."

On an interim basis, Jackson will assume oversight of Keys' other responsibilities, including case management, LifeForce air medical, quality/safety and accreditation.

"Next steps for the [chief nursing executive] role and Erlanger's nursing direction will be communicated after Rachel and I listen intently to our nursing and medical staffs, examine our current organizational structure and integrate the 90 new nurses who joined Erlanger this spring," Jackson said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Erlanger and Chattanooga's other acute-care hospitals struggled to recruit nurses - a problem seen across the country as many nurses leave the hospital bedside in favor of lower-stress, higher-paying jobs with better hours. The need is greatest for registered hospital bedside nurses, often called medical-surgical nurses, who care for sick and recovering adult patients.

In a Times Free Press survey of more than 100 local nurses conducted in June 2019, nurses cited detached administration, low pay and burnout as key factors that caused them to either dislike their jobs or leave nursing.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.