State delegates are full of holiday jeer over nearly $2 million in bonuses awarded to Erlanger Health System executives last week.
They voiced concerns Tuesday about their trust and faith in the hospital's board of trustees to Hamilton County officials during an annual breakfast meeting.
The hospital trustees voted Thursday to give 99 managers at the health system $1.7 million in bonuses after the hospital turned a profit for the first time in three years. That includes a $234,669 bonus for President and CEO Kevin Spiegel - which brought Spiegel's pay this year to $914,669.
"I wore my Christmas Grinch tie on purpose," state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, told a room full of county elected officials.
Gardenhire, along with state Sen. Bo Watson and Reps. Gerald McCormick and Mike Carter, are considering ways to make their appointments on the Erlanger Board of Trustees more accountable - although they offered no definite plans Tuesday.
Lawmakers criticized not only the bonuses, but the vote itself. Hospital trustees voted on the measures as amendments, so they never appeared on an agenda. And the trustees reportedly discussed the vote in a private dinner meeting before the vote.
"In my opinion, this was a sneaky, greedy, uncalled-for act by the administration and the trustees of Erlanger hospital," Gardenhire said.
Some legislator are considering doing away with a 2008 law that allows the board of trustees to meet privately at all. Erlanger officials say "no deliberation to a vote" on the incentives took place during the dinner.
Erlanger trustees have previously said that the bonuses were warranted since the metric to award them was set up over a year ago and since management managed to turn the hospital around after a rocky year.
Gardenhire said all the delegation's appointees, aside from Gerald Webb, may not be suitable to serve. Webb was the only trustee to vote against the bonus measures.
"They evidently discussed and tried to agree on making the vote unanimous in that dinner meeting before. ... That wasn't strategic planning that they were doing. In my opinion, they were violating the spirit of the Open Meetings Act," Gardenhire said. "If they are going to violate the trust of that, then we need to re-evaluate that and say, you don't deserve to serve on this board."
Gardenhire said the first thing he would do, though, is "calm down."
"I don't want to over-react and do something that will hurt the hospital instead of aiming my actions at individuals," he said.
Watson, R-Hixson, who works for Parkridge Medical Center, said he doesn't usually wade into Erlanger issues. But the bonuses caught legislators by surprise, and if Erlanger can pay bonuses to its executives, it could perhaps afford to pay the state's hospital assessment fee, which funds a large chunk of TennCare. Erlanger now is exempt from that fee.
He said he questioned justifying the bonuses with $19 million the hospital received in federal funding this year, which allowed the health system to pull its $18 million operating profit.
"The $20 million that the feds give you by sleight of hand - whether that's really operating revenue or not, I'm not sure," Watson said.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, who is responsible for five of the trustee appointments, said there is no process for removing an appointee - and that's not something he would do anyway.
"I've never told anybody how to vote, because you are not in every meeting they are in, you are not in every discussion they are in at the hospital," he said. "But from the outside looking in, I can think of no justification for why they would have given those amounts of bonuses."
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or email@example.com.