My second week as the executive editor here went swimmingly. Not only did the movers get 6,000 pounds of my stuff here without breaking a single item, but I've unpacked most of it already.

Then the topper to a great week came when two public hospitals in the region complained that we were being too hard on them. Nothing warms my journalistic heart more than public institutions complaining about news coverage, especially when those complaints never reach me and never result in demands for corrections.

In other words, we got it right. We did our jobs. In this case, medical writer Emily Bregel did her job and did it well.

That won't always be the case, of course. We're humans working on daily deadlines. Mistakes will be made. And when that happens, corrections will be written.

But I find it instructive that top brass at Hutcheson Medical Center complained about a story that was not even written yet and then failed to provide someone to even comment for the same story, which concerned mounting financial woes.

Officials at Erlanger hospital didn't like our story last week about its efforts to beef up its cardiology services amid declining market share.

Health care reform and the recession indeed have hammered public hospitals, which must provide the majority of charity care. Public hospitals also must endure a higher level of scrutiny because they receive tax dollars. That means their board meetings and financial books are open to the public.

However, when we request that information and then publish it, it does not mean we're out to get these hospitals. We're not out to get anyone. We will, though, pursue the truth with vigor, along with fairness and accuracy.

The Chattanooga area is blessed with fine medical institutions. I had the privilege of covering them as a reporter here from 1985-89. I frequently donned scrubs and stood amid teams of surgeons as they performed innovative operations.

I respect Erlanger and Hutcheson and know that their economic survival is important for their respective communities.

I can even argue that Erlanger saved my life once. I had an emergency appendectomy early one Sunday. The surgery went well, but also gave rise to two humorous


After I had been given anesthesia and was counting backward, a nurse appeared at my gurney. She was wearing scrubs and a surgical mask. Holding up a Bic razor as I was about to lose consciousness, she said, "Why Todd, I've never seen you without your pants before."

Turns out I had covered several surgeries with this nurse, who had a razor-sharp sense of humor.

The next day, I awoke in my hospital room and saw a funeral spray at the foot of my bed. Two of my Free Press colleagues had exercised their morbid senses of humor. One of those colleagues remains an editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press; the other is in Atlanta but stays in touch via Facebook.

It's been 21 years since I've lived in Chattanooga. I look forward to reliving more memories from the '80s.

J. Todd Foster is executive editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and can be reached at or 423-757-6472.