Saturday, June 12, 2021
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Doctor’s Job Status Gets Cookeville City Council Airing

The job status of a longtime Cookeville cardiac surgeon became a public discussion topic at Thursday night’s City Council meeting.

Council Member Charles Womack called the departure of Dr. Lewis Wilson “a travesty.”

“(Wilson) has been given a contract which is just impossible for him to take,” Womack said. “He called me this afternoon and said that the contract that he had gotten from administration was impossible to take and we’re losing him as a result of that. And he is a world class cardiac surgeon. He and his partner, Todd Chapman, are world class.”

Womack said it’s not right that Wilson was being “forced out,” calling the situation at CRMC “not as good as it’s been portrayed.”

Later in the meeting, Womack asked Cookeville Regional CEO Paul Korth about Wilson’s contract. Korth said Wilson had been working under a 15-year contract that gave the medical center no way to terminate him.

“Those original contracts that he had do not exist anymore,” Korth said. “There is no hospital in America that would hire a doctor for 10 or 15 years with a no out clause. That’s something my board has been working with me on over the terms that we continue to clean up some of those contracts.”

Under the new contract, Korth said CRMC could terminate him with a 120-day notice. Korth said that was similar to other contracts in that department.

“I think it’s a tragedy to have such a competent person and well-trained person here and you can’t negotiate over between 15 years and one hundred and twenty days,” Womack said. “That, to me, is a tragedy.”

Korth said Chapman chose to retire. He said recruitment is currently under way to add more physicians in that expertise.

Council Member Mark Miller said such a contract decision gave him pause about Korth’s leadership.

“And that’s one reason if if we do pass this budget and we don’t know that you’re actually performing your job and keeping doctors here, you’re firing pulmonologists at the beginning of a pandemic, like, why are we doing that?” Miller said.

Korth said he would not discuss the reason for the pulmonologist’s firing. “But if you had been in my seat, you would have done the same thing,” Korth said.

Operational issues were widely discussed Thursday night. City Attorney Dan Rader told the council that responsibility belongs to the Board of Trustees.

“But the question is, where is your authority in relation to the management and operation of the hospital?” Rader said. “And that’s where you choose the trustees and rely on them to make those management and operation decisions.”

Rader said if the council wants to have more direct control of the hospital’s operations, it should propose changes to the private act legislation that created the
independent center in 1999.

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