Cooper: Resolving Erlanger issues

Cooper: Resolving Erlanger issues

August 31st, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Staff File Photo / The Erlanger Health System Board of Trustees voted not to decide on the fate of President and CEO Kevin Spiegel on Thursday.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Discussion about the potential exit of Erlanger Health System CEO Kevin Spiegel, which had been simmering behind the scenes for weeks, broke open Thursday in a hospital board meeting, but a decision on what to do about it was kicked down the road.

Although hospital issues that were cited in a May letter from the Medical Executive Committee have improved, according to board chairman Mike Griffin, some doctors are still unhappy with hospital leadership.

The meeting, at which many thought Spiegel's fate would be decided, didn't last long before board members decided no vote on the CEO would be taken. Three board members weren't present, trustee Gerald Webb said (though only one was absent and two were present by phone). The board chairman then opened the floor for others to speak.

Most of those who did speak expressed their appreciation for what the CEO has done in turning around the fiscal fortunes of the hospital, building a new children's outpatient center and expanding the health system's reach across the region.

Spiegel himself also spoke, touting Erlanger's achievements during his tenure in a lengthy address he might otherwise have given to Wall Street bond agencies considering whether to issue the hospital more bonds.

But Webb, while praising the hospital's revitalized place in the community, acknowledged that "foundational issues" needed to be addressed, "and the reality is we're not here this evening because everything is going well."

"I hate to see bad news," he said, "but sometimes the bad news is what is needed. Those conversations have to take place. And I think for a while we've had foundational issues, and we've had cracks starting to show."

Webb said he didn't know what it would take to repair and rebuild relationships, but he is concerned "some of them have been fractured beyond repair."

Trauma surgeon Philip Smith, similarly, said he loved the hospital and liked Spiegel and other administrators but said, generally, "there's something just not there."

"There is a lack of ingrained trust I can't put my finger on," he said, later adding "there's a distrust that's underlying everything here that needs to be addressed."

The meeting, exposing publicly what had been behind the scenes, and the resulting inaction now open the hospital and Spiegel to additional rumors, scrutiny and innuendo. Perhaps the coming weeks before the next public meeting of trustees (there have been several closed board meetings over the last month) will allow either further support for the current administration to become evident or will permit those who believe the hospital's problems are beyond surface deep to come forward.

To our thinking, the situation is better resolved sooner rather than later. Spiegel deserves that, hospital employees deserve that and the public — Erlanger is the county's only public hospital — deserves that.

Trustees need to determine if all the CEO has accomplished — and it is considerable — outweighs the not insignificant cracks that have occurred before those cracks turn into fractures.

We don't envy that determination because of what Spiegel has done and because the concerns of the Medical Executive Committee and others were not given without cause.

Spiegel, if Thursday's meeting is any indication, wants to keep his job.

"I would not like to see this unbelievable performance interrupted," he said. "I think the challenge is healthy. We want to see Erlanger go to the next level, and I'm prepared to lead that, and I want to see everybody here join me."

Yet, Spiegel, in enumerating the hospital's accomplishments and his own desire to serve, did not acknowledge problems facing the Erlanger, specifically the letter that Griffin referenced at the meeting's outset.

But if the CEO wants to go forward together with the hospital, as Griffin alluded they should if they are "on the same team," he must admit to a desire to, as Webb said, "repair and rebuild relationships."

We don't know if it's too late to do so or if it's possible. But we do think that since the internal struggles now are out in the open, it will be caustic to keep pushing the struggle down the road. The board should either 1) work out an exit strategy (which unfortunately could involve some hefty severance payout) with Spiegel or 2) immediately convene a separate committee or employ an arbiter or mediator to determine if the problems can be resolved.

If the problems cannot be resolved, the board would need to return to the first option. But the time for kicking a decision down the road should end.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315