Bill to change Erlanger’s governance introduced in Tennessee House, not the Senate

A bill that would allow Erlanger Health System to become a nongovernmental entity was introduced Wednesday in the Tennessee House of Representatives, but as of Thursday afternoon, no companion bill had been introduced in the Senate.

House Bill 2915 was filed by Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, with co-sponsor Esther Helton, R-East Ridge.

The bill proposes changes to the private law that created the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority, better known as Erlanger, so that the Erlanger Board of Directors and the county government of Hamilton can determine whether the public hospital system should transition to a private, not-for-profit governance model. .

(READ MORE: Hamilton County delegation reviews plans to make Erlanger private)

The amendment would allow Erlanger’s board of directors, by a two-thirds vote, to transfer Erlanger’s assets or liabilities for “no monetary or nominal consideration” to a not-for-profit corporation that accepts “commitments to continue Erlanger’s safety net mission related to charitable care, emergency and trauma services, major clinical service lines, children’s hospital, federally licensed health centers, health population and participation in the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Staff photo of Robin Rudd/Rep. Patsy Hazlewood speaks to the Chattanooga Times Free Press at the newspaper’s offices on November 15, 2019.

The bill states that the new nonprofit should commit to protecting employees by offering positions, salaries and benefits at least equivalent to current levels. It also includes provisions that would require Erlanger, under a new structure, to remain in charge of the pension plan and take additional steps to ensure its stability.

The new nonprofit would report to a watchdog created to monitor its compliance with covenants and covenants and would be prohibited from selling, leasing or transferring “substantially all of its assets or operations” without the approval of Hamilton County, Tennessee Commission Counsel. general and the supervisory body.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said by text Thursday afternoon that they were tied to a budget meeting and unable to comment on their future legislative plans for Erlanger.

With the current session of the Tennessee General Assembly winding down, time is running out for senators to introduce a companion bill, which would be necessary for the House bill to move forward.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and the Erlanger Board of Directors said they believe the transition of the health care system — which is the Chattanooga area’s only safety-net hospital and the largest the county’s largest employer – moving to an independent nonprofit model would help Erlanger compete with private hospitals in the area. .

One benefit cited by proponents of the transition is that it would allow Erlanger to do more of his business privately, as his competitors do.

Erlanger is the region’s largest provider for low-income and uninsured patients. Last year, Erlanger provided about $150 million in unpaid care, a figure that has increased 36% in four years.

The hospital is home to the only Level 1 trauma center in the area and the only children’s hospital within 100 miles.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at [email protected] or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.

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