Hamilton County takes next steps in Erlanger transition process

Staff Photo / Erlanger Baroness is seen from Missionary Ridge in 2020 in Chattanooga. Hamilton County commissioners completed two steps on Wednesday in the process of changing Erlanger Health System from a government entity to an independent nonprofit organization as officials prepare for the next major milestone of the transition.

Hamilton County commissioners completed two steps on Wednesday in the process of changing Erlanger Health System from a government entity to an independent nonprofit organization as officials prepare for the next major milestone of the transition.

Within the next six weeks, commissioners will vote on the charter, bylaws and covenants developed by Erlanger leadership and attorneys hired by the hospital board and the county. Those key documents will ultimately govern the new entity, dubbed "Erlanger Health."

The covenants must include language guaranteeing that Erlanger continues its mission of providing charity care, emergency and trauma services, major clinical service lines, the children's hospital, federally qualified health centers, population health and participation in the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Other required covenants include agreeing to protect the current workforce and employee benefits, including full responsibility for the hospital's pension plan, and establishing an oversight body to hold hospital leadership accountable to its commitments, according to the private act passed by the legislature to allow the transformation to move forward.

On Wednesday, the commission approved a resolution to complete the legislative process that began in March when the county requested that members of the local delegation propose an amendment to the 1976 private act that created the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority - better known as Erlanger Health System - opening the door for Erlanger to change its governance structure.

That bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly in April and was signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee in May, but state law requires it come back to the commission to be ratified.

Commissioners also passed a resolution Wednesday authorizing the county mayor to execute an agreement between the local legislative delegation and Erlanger formalizing the county's commitment to keep the delegation informed throughout the transition process.

"When we were meeting with the delegation to put all this together, they wanted to be involved, so what we did was say we'll agree to keep you informed as to what we're doing so there's no surprises," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Attorneys advising both the county and the Erlanger board said it was important to show that commitment publicly through a resolution voted on and approved by the commission, according to Coppinger.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.