Erlanger transition gets Power Poll support even though many questions remain
Power Poll members also would like to see new police chief prioritize community relations, department morale and diversity and equity work
Changing up Erlanger Health System's governance structure — transitioning the billion-dollar health care giant into an independent, private nonprofit institution — seems like a good idea, according to just over half of Power Poll Chattanooga survey respondents.
News about the health system's exploration of a governance overhaul emerged last week when Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger sought County Commission approval for money to hire a Nashville-based attorney to assist the county with a potential transition.
Supporters of the sweeping change argue that Erlanger's current model of governance under the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority Act (overseen by an all-volunteer, 11-member board of trustees appointed by the state legislature and county commission) is no longer sustainable. They say Erlanger is put at a competitive disadvantage because its business must be conducted in public.
How we can all better manage our health in 2022
By Dr. Andrea Willis
Senior Vice President, Chief Medical Officer
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
We’ve entered a third year where COVID-19 remains a primary health concern on the minds of not only all Tennesseans, but practically everyone on the planet. We should remain vigilant and do our part to slow its spread. But we can’t lose sight of the everyday health concerns that are so often set aside.
During this past year, odds are you haven’t felt well and experienced symptoms that aren’t indicative of COVID-19. Whether it’s a nagging pain, persistent heartburn or even symptoms of a condition that runs in your family, you may have put off seeking diagnoses and treatment from your doctor.
Other priorities like child care and work — or as I see with many colleagues and loved ones, managing both at the same time — have a way of pushing preventive health care to the back burner.
While this mindset is logical in the moment, we mustn’t neglect our long-term health goals and needs, either. And a new year remains an opportune time to reassess and recommit to our health.
Resolve for yourself
Managing our health may feel like a self-centered endeavor, which could be why so many of us struggle with it. As both a doctor and a parent, it’s sometimes difficult to put myself first, even just to make time for exercise. Juggling careers and the needs of our families, particularly young children, requires a lot of bandwidth.
But accepting the necessity to focus on yourself — and letting go of any accompanying guilt — is a hurdle many of us must clear. From there, you can dive into your diet, exercise and other preventive care needs.
Your first step should be scheduling an appointment with your primary care provider. They can help you establish an overall picture of your health and set realistic goals.
If you’re one of the many Tennesseans who live with ongoing health conditions like diabetes or heart disease, a primary care provider can help you keep up with medications and routine screenings.
Routine steps like these can improve your quality of life for the rest of your life.
Of course, the cost of care is always a concern, no matter the illness or injury. And making care more affordable is one of our most important jobs as a health insurance company. For BlueCross, it starts with our provider networks and the discounts we negotiate for health care services.
We’ve also introduced a new option for Tennesseans. BlueCross members can visit one of the eight primary care clinics, opened through a partnership between BlueCross and Sanitas, in Middle and West Tennessee. These clinics make access to primary care more affordable and convenient.
Don’t forget vaccines
No matter where you seek care, your provider will likely recommend you get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu. It remains your best defense against severe disease. Vaccines continue to significantly reduce cases of severe illness and death. That matters as hospital bed availability has dwindled, due not only to the Omicron surge but also to staffing shortages.
Hospitals are reporting that their intensive care units are primarily filled with unvaccinated patients.
But even with the increased demand on the health care system, your doctor would prefer to work with you to prevent illness or help you manage a condition you already have so that don’t end up with an emergency situation. If they advise you get tested before coming in, remember that every household can now get free at-home tests through covidtests.gov.
I’m confident we will get through these difficult days. I also know we all want health and happiness for those who matter most to us. They inspire us to be our best selves, as well.
Asked “Do you think it necessary for the long-term stability and success of Erlanger Health System that the hospital transition to a 501(c)3 governance structure?” 53% of Power Poll respondents said 'yes,” while 14% said “no.” A full third of respondents — 33% — said they “didn't know yet.”
There are tons of unanswered questions about what a new governance structure would like and how it would function, how the hospital's longtime relationship with the UT College of Medicine might be affected, and how the hospital would maintain its critical public service mission as the area's primary provider of indigent care and highly specialized services.
Erlanger representatives have spent months visiting other institutions for insights into what works elsewhere, and there are plenty of other models, such as UT Medical Center in Knoxville, which for more than 20 years has operated as a nonprofit academic medical center.
Ultimately, Power Poll members think some kind of transition will happen. Just over two-thirds — 67% — said the hospital board and county “will be successful in converting the hospital's governing/operating structure.” Only 4.6% said “no” and 29% said “don't know.”
The takeaway? While there is support for Erlanger and the county looking into different operating models and securing the necessary approval from local and state lawmakers, much work needs to be done to reassure citizens about the plans and intent.
In other significant news, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly is ever closer to hiring a new police chief. Of course, this new hire will have his or her hands full with tackling violent crime. We wanted to know what Power Poll members think about other priorities the new chief should embrace.
Asked “Besides tackling gun and violent crime (the obvious), what should the top priority be for the new police chief?" just under a third — at 31% — said “improving community relations;” followed by “improving department morale, 23%; “ developing and implementing workable diversity and equity strategies in hiring, training and community relations work, 23%; “holding officers and department personnel accountable with greater transparency;” 14%; “other,” 7%; and “don't know, 2.3%.
The police department recently launched a co-response team in which a member of CPD's crisis intervention team partners with a licensed clinician to work with individuals under duress.
Power Poll member Steve Hunt of Berry & Hunt is hopeful about such an approach.
"Much like the 'ambassadors' with the Downtown Chattanooga Alliance interact with those in the district who are experiencing homelessness before police are called, I am hopeful that the new program of crisis intervention professionals accompanying our CPD officers will be embraced wholeheartedly by the [Kelly] administration and our new police chief," Hunt wrote.
And finally, it is time to begin looking at this year's election mayhem. The Tennessee General Assembly gave the go-ahead to political parties and governing bodies to approve partisan school board races this year. Given the political climate these days, we wondered if party affiliation will make a difference in the voting booth. The answers may surprise you.
Asked "Will knowing the party affiliation of a [school board] candidate affect your vote?" 48% said "yes" while 45% said "no." Another 7% said they didn't know.
Dr. B.W. Ruffner, a past president of the Tennessee Medical Association, said he is opposed to any "political influence" on the Board of Education.
"I would prefer that those members ignore party affiliations and focus only on the best interests of our children," he wrote.
Contact Chris Vass, public editor at the Times Free Press, at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.