Roy Exum: Stop The UT Squabble

Monday, February 12, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

At a recent meeting of the Erlanger Hospital Board of Trustees, its Executive Committee gave hospital CEO Kevin Spiegel the singular power -- in writing -- to sever ties with the University of Tennessee’s College of Health Sciences. Graduates of the medical school in Memphis have been coming to Chattanooga to do their internships and residences for years and it has been the greatest Godsend for the people of our area since Great God Almighty plotted the course of the Tennessee River to flow at our doorstep.

We’ve got far greater doctors than we would normally attract because they can complement their practices with professorships at the Medical College. These same physician instructors can cherry pick the best and the brightest young minds to make Chattanooga their home and “medical availability” – the ability for a patient to be seen -- is greater in Chattanooga than in other cities our size across the United States.

But as Erlanger has now reached heights none of us would have ever dreamed under Spiegel and his team, the reign of success has now triggered a pseudo-medical condition that history has proven time and again can be fatal. It is a form of ear-nose-throat pomposity that causes great leaders to no longer hear others of sound mind, nor possess the vision to study a different view of ideals. The condition is easily diagnosed because the victim’s clothes no longer fit well. Noticeably to the diagnostician, the syndrome “too big for their britches,” it is always obvious, and readily prone to error.

Candidly, Kevin Spiegel is the best thing that has ever happened to our public hospital but, now astride a very high horse with stirrups too long, Kevin should realize the majority of Erlanger “grey beards,” who have weathered many storms with the Baroness, are deeply worried the low-hanging branches will go unnoticed in the senseless fog he has created, and has the house staff genuinely concerned.

A low-hanging branch has knocked many a haughty rider into a muddy ditch. The fear is Spiegel’s recent decisions towards outside medical staff are not in the best interests of anyone save some bloodless accountant and the deadly vice we know as greed.

On the surface Erlanger appears to be thriving, capital projects abound, the construction of a new and improved Children’s Hospital is exciting. But warts that are believed to be personal vendettas, denying able medical residents of the UT model duties at other hospitals, and – in some cases – leaning so hard on a cut-throat business formula that the best healthcare in the region is senselessly and clearly diminished. This is not who we are, not at all.

The hospital’s recent skirmishes with some of the best thoracic surgeons in the South are outright embarrassing. It actually places a public hospital in a position of some loathsome predator instead of as a Level 4 health provider. The hospital’s graduation education committee – some 25-35 top doctors – recently drafted a “no confidence letter” to the board and there is an overwhelming vein of distrust now coursing throughout the county’s medical community. What could be more repulsive to a compassionate society, Mr. Spiegel at its front?

With rural hospitals closing and others being forced to limit services due to lack-of-staff, Erlanger is often over 100 percent occupancy but it is widely being quoted that when a hospital administrator reportedly told hospital officials she was putting the ER on “alert,” the reply to the diligent servant was that person would immediately be terminated, thwarting hospital protocol. “We are borderline in a lot of areas,” according to well-connected sources.

Steve Schwab, the Chancellor of the UT Health Science Center, knows there are bad rumblings yet thus far has chosen to ignore the warning signs. Rather than face the mounting problems and the ominous “Lack of Confidence” letter, it is believed Schwab, somewhat lightly-regarded in leadership circles, will meet with UT Trustees John Foy and Vicki Gregg in Chattanooga sometime this week, along with Spiegel and “other quite concerned individuals."

Schwab has repeatedly warned Spiegel his “popularity” has waned – the two were friends in Memphis before Spiegel came to Erlanger -- and the fact ‘tenure’ has been ominously withheld for highly-regarded Bruce Shack, the dean of the Chattanooga college, has now acquired a certain stench and more disdain for Schwab.

Some question if the Executive Committee can actually give Spiegel the sole authority to kick UT’s lengthy and committed efforts in the face. The Executive Committee has changed dramatically in recent years. It’s milque-toast stance towards the hospital’s executive team is --- let’s be honest – both staged and laughable to some.

Many doctors at Erlanger are now hospital employees, lending to credible charges there is intimidation among the staff, but what is overlooked is that this skirmish with the UT College of Medicine couldn’t come at a worse time. Because of UT’s strong and vibrant affiliation with Erlanger, the best and the brightest medical students seek internships and residencies in Chattanooga every year.

What happens is that shortly before graduation, medical students “pick” where they would most likely to continue their training. The requests are processed by accredited teaching hospitals across the country and Erlanger is always high on the list. If UT and Erlanger are at odds, the top medical students want no part of a squabble. Erlanger could suffer notable losses this spring.

From where I sit, Kevin Spiegel should focus on his wins and learn from his losses. Regardless of missteps in the past, the focus must be on the strength of our alliance with UT College of Medicine rather than on petty and insignificant differences Kevin and UT dean Shack can repair within hours. The best thing about a mistake is that after we recognize it, you can tie a new knot if only you can grasp both ends of the string.

We just need to use a double knot this time.

royexum@aol.com



City Puts Another Crimp In The Fading Affordable House

We love to have conversations around affordable housing and how big bad developers are only chasing the dirty dollar. But then the same administration proposes an increase in all the costs that go into an affordable house. We see countless examples of building codes and zoning ordinances tightening up regulations. A couple months ago, Red Bank increased the minimum house size (tax ... (click for more)

Equity Study - And Response

What exactly is an Equity Study? Is the the damage control that comes in the wake of the UnifiEd outburst a few weeks ago? I can save the board a whole lot of hassle since the mere mention of doing such a study means that the study will reveal inequities, regardless of any basis.  If they would like to throw a quarter million down the drain for 20 pages ... (click for more)

Corker, Aide Help Gain Release Of Holts From Venezuelan Prison

 Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the release of American citizen Josh Holt and his wife, Thamy, who have been detained in a Venezuelan prison for the last two years.   “I am pleased to join Senator Hatch and President Trump in announcing the release of Josh and Thamy Holt,” said Senator Corker. “Senator ... (click for more)

1st Vote On Controversial Signal Mountain Grocery Proposal Set June 13; Town To Choose Either Tennessee American Or Waldens Ridge For Water Service

The next steps in rezoning 617 Cauthen Way were discussed at the Signal Mountain work session Friday afternoon. Since the last council meeting, Town Manager Boyd Veal created a list of conditions to include in the zoning ordinance relating to the proposed commercial development designed to assure that there is no negative impact to the surrounding properties or to the interest of ... (click for more)

Summertown Stops Sale Creek's Bid For A State Class 1A State Softball Title, 7-5

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Sale Creek had its sight set on making some softball history Friday. The Lady Panthers reached their first TSSAA state softball championship with a 3-1 victory over Cascade, powered by a Trinity Liner three-run homer on her 18 th birthday. A few hours later, they wanted to beat Summertown and set up a second title game for all the marbles. ... (click for more)

Silverdale Wins D-II-A State Softball Title

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Kaili Phillips got disqualified in the first inning of Thursday’s game against the Tipton-Rosemark Lady Rebels and nobody gave the Silverdale Lady Seahawks a snowball’s chance of winning that game. But they did. Nobody gave the Lady Seahawks much of a chance of repeating that feat less than 24 hours later in the winner-take-all final game, but once again, ... (click for more)