Erlanger Health System's Board of Trustees voted 6-3 Thursday to remove chief of staff and fellow trustee Dr. Chris Young from those roles over allegations that he shared unspecified confidential information and therefore violated his fiduciary duty.
The decision came at the end of a regularly scheduled public meeting. Chairwoman Linda Moss Mines said the board would move into a closed session but would possibly reopen the meeting for another motion that would require a vote.
Following an hour of deliberation, the meeting was reopened, at which point Mines said, "Over the past several weeks, members of the board were made aware of certain allegations of a breach in confidence by the chief of the medical staff and trustee, Dr. Chris Young."
Mines went on to say that "under guidance of counsel, discussions were had with the individuals making the allegations and included discussions with Dr. Young directly. Dr. Young was further given the opportunity to respond to the allegations more formally. The individuals making the allegations were credible and appear to have no reason to misrepresent the facts and the subject matter disclosed by Dr. Young."
Young, 63, is an anesthesiologist and medical staff leader who has practiced at Erlanger for more than 30 years. He is a longtime advocate for Erlanger who speaks openly about the challenges the public hospital faces.
He's served in numerous leadership, volunteer and advocacy roles throughout his career, including as a past member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society's board of directors and past president of the Tennessee Medical Association in 2013-14. He's a delegate for the American Medical Association and legislative director for the Tennessee Society of Anesthesiologists.
Young became chief of staff and a board member in January 2021. He will continue to practice medicine at Erlanger but will be replaced in his officer and trustee roles by the vice chief of staff, Dr. Chris Poole, who assumed the role of chief following the board's decision.
Mines did not go into any further details about the allegations but cited the medical staff bylaws, which authorize the board to remove medical staff officers "whenever the activities, professional conduct, physical or mental health status or leadership abilities are believed to be below the standards established by the medical staff, or to be disruptive to the operations of the hospital. Reasons for removal may include but shall not be limited to violation of these bylaws, breaches of confidentiality or unethical behavior."
In an emailed statement, Young said he is deeply disappointed by and strongly disagrees with the board's decision.
"I have served the medical staff as an elected leader through some of the hospital's most trying times to the best of my abilities and worked hard to find a sustainable path for Erlanger in the future," Young said. "I believe I have always acted in the best interest of Erlanger as chief of staff. It is especially noteworthy that not a single Erlanger trustee who is also a physician voted in favor of this action.
"I find the process of the board action disturbing in that I was never told the specific allegation against me nor given the opportunity to address the board in person. I have great concern about the harm this has caused to the relationship between the hospital and the medical staff, and it will take time to repair," he said.
Erlanger is governed by an 11-member volunteer board. Six trustees are appointed by the county mayor with approval from the Hamilton County Commission, and the local legislative delegation appoints four trustees by a majority vote. The medical chief of staff also serves as a trustee.
Though trustees receive no compensation, the hospital pays the chief of staff a $35,000 annual stipend.
In addition to serving as a trustee, the chief of staff is chair of the Medical Executive Committee - a group of top Erlanger physicians that includes four officers who are elected by the medical staff to serve two-year terms and the chiefs of the hospital's 11 medical departments. The committee oversees key decisions related to medical staff policies and procedures, with an emphasis on patient safety and quality.
Officers include immediate past chief Dr. Jim Bolton, new chief Poole and Dr. Ben Dart, who was bumped up from secretary to vice chief following Young's removal. All three were present for the decision at Thursday's meeting and asked to give a statement but were denied because they had not followed the board's speaker approval process.
The Medical Executive Committee offered the following statement to the Times Free Press in response to the board's action:
"We are currently evaluating the situation. We plan to obtain legal counsel to assist us with working through this situation. At this moment the medical staff is confused by the process and obviously dismayed with the board's decision. The [Medical Executive Committee] is very supportive and has the utmost confidence in the job Dr. Chris Young has done as chief of staff. We have no question with regards to his dedication to the office for which he was elected to serve."
The board's decision to remove the one member who is elected by the medical staff is unusual and may deal a blow to physician morale.
In a Friday statement from Erlanger, the board said it "takes no action without due consideration of one of its most valuable partnerships - the medical staff. In that light, it is the board's hope that members of the medical staff and anyone else with questions will understand and appreciate that the board would not have taken action were it not obligated by the facts to ensure that the board continues to meet its fiduciary duties to Erlanger."
Mines, Vice Chair Sheila Boyington and trustees Jim Coleman, Warren McEwen, John Germ and Lemon Williams voted in favor of Young's removal. Secretary Vicky Gregg was not physically present for the meeting and therefore unable to vote.
Those who voted against Young's removal all have long histories with Erlanger and include the two other physicians on the board, Dr. Mitch Mutter and Dr. Phil Burns, and trustee Ken Conner. Mutter was a former Erlanger cardiologist and chief of staff from 2004 to 2007, Burns has practiced as a surgeon at Erlanger for over 40 years and Conner was Erlanger's chief financial officer from 1984 to 1997.
Burns, Mutter and Conner said they felt that there needed to be additional due process and establishment of facts before making a decision.
No other trustees spoke about the decision except for Mines.
"It is extremely unfortunate that the board has found itself in this situation. But as each of you know, the extent to which we do not police our own, the actions of one will be imputed as the actions of the board itself, which is simply unacceptable under these circumstances," she said.
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ecfite.