Legislators question secret session discussion of public hospital executive bonuses

Hamilton County legislators say they will seek a state attorney general’s opinion on whether Erlanger Medical Center’s Board of Trustees violated the open meetings law when they discussed paying out $2.7 million in performance-related bonuses during two closed meetings before they publicly voted on Dec. 4.

Further from the Chattanooga TFP:

And the repercussions could extend beyond the Chattanooga hospital, lawmakers said during a roundtable discussion with Times Free Press reporters and editors.

Delegation members said Erlanger’s decision has now “clouded” their view of Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid and also spurred a bill that could remove public hospitals’ special strategic exemption to open meetings law.

Referring to potential political fallout, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said the Erlanger payouts “could be the most expensive bonuses anybody has ever gotten.”

Erlanger officials could not be reached for comment by press time on Tuesday. Trustees said earlier the bonuses were earned according to benchmarks set in early 2014. Those benchmarks were not made public until December.

The vote to give bonuses to 99 managers came after a financially turbulent year. The hospital froze vacation time, tightened benefits and phased out pensions and retiree insurance. Then in the spring, the hospital received a $19 million infusion of federal funding after lobbying local, state and federal officials for access to the pool, and ended the year with a profit.