Erlanger hires chief legal officer

Erlanger Health System has appointed Jeffrey Woodard as its new chief legal officer.

Woodard has served as the hospital's director of risk management and staff attorney for three years.

"Jeff is well respected within our organization, as well as in the legal community, and I have been impressed with his work and his vision to grow and improve our in house legal department," said Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel.

Woodard replaces former chief legal officer Dale Hetzler, who resigned in March.

Before coming to Erlanger, Woodard worked at Hutcheson Medical Center.

Before that, he was in private practice with two Georgia law firms, Minor, Bell and Neal in Dalton, Ga., and Womack, Gottlieb and Rodham in LaFayette, Ga.

He also serves as a director on the Floyd County Board of Health.

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The Erlanger Baroness campus.

Erlanger Health System trustees broke into applause Thursday night after voting unanimously to stop hiring tobacco users.

Starting in January, the hospital no longer will hire any staff -- doctor, nurse, administrator or any other position -- who uses tobacco.

"We are moving to fully encompass a smoke-free environment throughout our enterprise," said chief administrative officer Gregg Gentry.

While current employees will be grandfathered into the policy, they no longer will be able to smoke on the grounds of any of the hospital's affiliated facilities as of Nov. 21 as a part of a new campuswide smoking ban.

Hospital CEO Kevin Spiegel said he hoped the policy could have a ripple effect on students eyeing a career in health care, and other potential hirees.

Trustee Jack Studer said while he supported the measure, he had questions about its legal precedence.

While other hospitals -- like Memorial Health Care System -- have instituted such policies, the dynamics could be different for a public hospital like Erlanger, chief legal officer Jeffrey Woodard acknowledged after the meeting.

Woodard said he is confident the policy is legal, but it will have to be written along very specific parameters.

Lincoln Park deal finalized

Erlanger now can make good on a pledge to turn over five acres of the historic Lincoln Park to the city.

The city is seeking to preserve the park, which is in the Lincoln Park neighborhood behind the hospital. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke held a news conference in August to announce the park's conservation, before Erlanger trustees had actually voted on whether to donate the land.

Instead of a donation, Erlanger has agreed to formally swap deeds with the city for an eight-acre lot on the corner of 38th Street and Ohls Avenue, by the Villages at Alton Park -- where hospital officials said they hope to one day build a new Southside Community Health Center.

With the preservation of the park, hospital leaders say they believe the city can now jump-start long-held plans to create a Central Avenue extension that would reach Amnicola Highway.

Such an extension could make significant improvements to hospital access.

Employee benefits tightened

Erlanger also is tightening employee benefits.

After a review of current policies, the hospital is restructuring how it handles its paid leave, extended sick time and accrued leave of absence.

"We wanted to provide competitive employee benefits, but make sure they are sustainable," said Gentry. "This is assisting in reestablishing the financial strength of Erlanger."

The hospital's paid annual leave system will be converted to a "paid time off system" where staff still will be allowed to buy back their leave up to 90 percent of their hourly rate, but the maximum balance will fall from 500 to 400 hours.

The staff's "extended illness bank" will convert to a short-term disability bank, which will require a review before a board before employees may be approved for such time off.

In addition, hospital employees' maximum accrued leave of absence has been cut from 12 to four months.

The hospital's chief administrative officer Gregg Gentry said current employees will get to maintain what they have accrued, but the changes are designed to "bring benefits in line with what would be industry standard."

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at or 423-757-6673.