Erlanger and radiology company reach agreement after physician backlash, contract hearing

Erlanger and radiology company reach agreement after physician backlash, contract hearing

February 8th, 2019 by Elizabeth Fite in Local Regional News

Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel speaks to attendees in the lobby of the new Children's Hospital at Erlanger on Friday.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Tennessee Interventional and Imaging Associates will remain Erlanger Health System's radiology service provider after the two reached an agreement late Friday afternoon.

"We've been working over the last several weeks — it's been up and down up and down — but we've come to a mutual agreement we're going to sign off on Monday," said Dr. Steve Quarfordt, president of the radiology provider.

Gregg Gentry, Erlanger's chief administrative officer, said discussing the agreement would be "premature," since partners still need to be notified, but those details will be made available soon.

"We want the public to know that we've come together and are going to keep providing exceptional care," Gentry said.

On Jan. 7, Erlanger issued a 180-day notice of termination to Tennessee Interventional and Imaging Associates that prompted a backlash from other physicians who rely on the group's services in their daily medical practices.

"After hearing of the terminated contract, the [Medical Executive Committee] voted unanimously to express written support of [Tennessee Interventional and Imaging Associates] to the Board," reads a Jan. 16 letter from Erlanger's Medical Executive Committee to the Board of Trustees.

The main sticking point in the latest negotiations was that Erlanger said the radiology company's audit — which was submitted in October 2018 — "wasn't acceptable" and "didn't give us information that we needed," given that Erlanger pays the group $4.2 million a year, Erlanger board chairman Mike Griffin said Friday.

However, a letter to Erlanger's Board of Trustees defended the audit, citing that it was conducted by a renowned certified radiology administrator who found "[no] material issues."

Only a year before Tennessee Interventional and Imaging Associates' latest audit was submitted, Tanner Goodrich, Erlanger's vice president of operations, asked the board to renew Erlanger's contract with the radiology provider and to increase payment to the group. The board approved the contract at its October 2017 meeting.

In the year since, Tennessee Interventional and Imaging Associates' co-founder, Dr. Blaise Baxter — who is also an Erlanger board member — resigned from the group.

Documents show that Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel pressured the radiology provider to rehire Baxter throughout 2018. Efforts to reach Baxter on Friday were unsuccessful.

It's unclear whether Tennessee Interventional and Imaging Associates will agree to a new audit that wasn't required under the original contract, and documents suggest it may take more to restore the radiology provider's trust in Erlanger leadership.

According to another letter to Erlanger's board, Erlanger administrators "have negotiated with a competitor radiology group behind closed doors over the past several months regarding the purchase of standalone outpatient imaging centers without consulting [Tennessee Interventional and Imaging Associates] and radiologists."

Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles didn't confirm or deny outside negotiations, stating in an email that "[any] such communications would be confidential at this point."

Although the current agreement allows Erlanger to purchase outpatient diagnostic imaging centers and contract with other physicians or groups to provide radiology services at those facilities, Erlanger is supposed to give Tennessee Interventional and Imaging Associates the first right of refusal to provide those services.

Erlanger held a teleconference on Wednesday to brief board members on the situation after a story appeared in the Times Free Press detailing the months-long efforts by Spiegel to change the contract.

Participants included Chairman Mike Griffin, Linda Mines, Gerald Webb, Sheila Boyington, Henry Hoss, Dr. James Bolton, Erlanger Chief Medical Officer Will Jackson, Erlanger Chief Operating Officer Rob Brooks, Tanner Goodrich, Erlanger Chief Legal Officer Jeff Woodard and Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel.

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said that the public likely should've been notified about that call, since a teleconference of a governing body still falls under the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.

"If they're talking about some issue that the board can make a decision about, it should be a meeting that's open to the public with notice given," Fisher said. "It's hard to see where that's not a meeting."

Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.