UT affiliation to remain after Erlanger becomes private entity

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / University of Tennessee Health Science Center Chancellor Peter Buckley talks Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, during a meeting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board.

Erlanger Health System's affiliation with the state's largest public higher education institution will remain unchanged once Erlanger fully transitions from a government entity to a private nonprofit organization, leaders from the University of Tennessee System said this week.

Randy Boyd, president of the University of Tennessee System, and Dr. Peter Buckley, chancellor of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, participated in a town hall at Erlanger on Tuesday as part of a statewide tour designed to educate and inform Tennesseans about the health science center -- the state's public health and medical education system that includes the University of Tennessee College of Medicine.

Although the center is based in Memphis, it's affiliated with hospital systems in five major cities across the state, including Erlanger in Chattanooga, to help educate new doctors in training and medical students.

Speaking later that day at an editorial board meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Buckley said one question that arose during the town hall was related to how Erlanger's transition might affect the health system's relationship with UT.

"It's not going to be changed, with the exception that if the governance structure leads to a better performance and a better financial performance of Erlanger, it's likely that we would be -- to some extent -- the recipient of that," Buckley said. "There's a phrase in academic medicine, 'no margin, no mission,' and so the ability of Erlanger to do well financially is an opportunity for us."

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In August, Hamilton County commissioners approved an agreement that would allow Erlanger to transition to a private entity, which hospital leaders say will help even the playing field with Erlanger's private competitors. That agreement contained 13 covenants that Erlanger must adhere to once the transition is complete, one of which is to continue its academic mission, though it did not specify with what academic institution.

Erlanger spokeswoman Blaine Kelley said in an email that Erlanger officials "appreciate our partnership with the UT College of Medicine and look forward to our continued alliance."

Boyd said during the editorial board meeting that much of the conversation during Tuesday's town hall centered around Chattanoogans' lack of awareness that UT Health Science Center has a presence in the city.

"We really need to do a better job of letting people know about the UT Health Science Center," Boyd said. "It's one of the greatest assets in our state, and people just don't know about it."

The center has more than 3,100 students, 1,416 residents and fellows and almost 900 clinical and education sites across the state, according to data from UT.

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