Physicians concerned over 'perceived loss of autonomy' after removal of Erlanger chief of staff

In a recent development, physicians outside of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Erlanger Health System are expressing concern following the removal of Chris Young, MD, from his roles as trustee and chief of staff, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Fifteen physician leaders on the board of directors at the Chattanooga and Hamilton County Medical Society expressed their concerns in a letter sent Nov. 22 to the Erlanger board and Erlanger management.

In the letter, which was obtained by the Times Free Press, the leaders said the relationship between the board and medical staff at Erlanger has "become the topic of enormous concern and conversation" among physicians in the community, the newspaper reported.

"Our board of directors includes a diverse group of physicians who are profoundly concerned about the perceived loss of autonomy of employed and independent medical staffs, compelling us to document our concerns," the letter states, according to the Times Free Press. "This situation is heightened because the physician in question is without a doubt one of the most widely respected physician leaders in the state and has voluntarily devoted his time and much of his career to the Erlanger Health System."

According to the newspaper, the medical society letter also states that "the action taken by the board of trustees has the potential to create fear and distrust among the very physicians who are most critical to the success of every hospital and may lessen the physician voice in concerning ways."

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority board of trustees, which governs Erlanger Health System, voted Oct. 28 to remove Dr. Young from his trustee role as well as his role as chief of staff at Erlanger over allegations that he violated his fiduciary duty by sharing unspecified confidential information.

Dr. Young is an anesthesiologist with ACE Anesthesia in Chattanooga. He is contracted to provide anesthesia services to Erlanger and became chief of staff and a board member in January. The chief of staff at Erlanger, who also holds an ex officio seat on the authority's board of trustees, is elected by physicians that either work at or are privileged at the health system. Erlanger said his removal from the chief of staff position does not remove him from practicing at Erlanger. Prior to the chief of staff role, Dr. Young was vice chief of staff at Erlanger. He also is a delegate for the American Medical Association.

In a statement from Erlanger shared with Becker's on Nov. 1, health system officials said the board "takes no action without due consideration of one of its most valuable partnerships — the medical staff. In that light, it is the board's hope that members of the medical staff and anyone else with questions will understand and appreciate that the board would not have taken action were it not obligated by the facts to ensure that the board continues to meet its fiduciary duties to Erlanger."

Dr. Young, in an emailed statement to the Times Free Press after the October meeting, said he "find[s] the process of the board action disturbing in that I was never told the specific allegation against me nor given the opportunity to address the board in person."

A spokesperson for Erlanger told Becker's the health system's 11-member board immediately sent a response letter addressing the medical society's concerns.

The response, which was shared with Becker's, states: "While distinct from the duty of a physician owed to their patients, each trustee has a legal and professional duty to [Erlanger] as a fiduciary. These duties require the board to investigate and act upon matters that come to their attention, and these same duties sometimes preclude the board from disclosing private information even to valued partners such as the medical staff (or anyone other than trustees and legal counsel). While the board did not expect to be in this unfortunate position, the board had an obligation to act in a manner consistent with these duties and in the best interests of the hospital."

The board's letter also states that the board "acted carefully and diligently" and welcomes the medical society's "continued feedback, collaboration and engagement."

Erlanger Vice Chief of Staff Chris Poole, MD, who served as secretary of the Erlanger medical staff prior to the vice chief role, is replacing Dr. Young in his chief of staff and trustee roles.  

Access the full report here

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