published Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Hutcheson plan gets green light

by Chris Carroll
  • photo
    Hutcheson Medical Center employees Angie Hullander, left, and Holly Trotter question Walker County Attorney Don Oliver, lower right, about the deal struck Tuesday with all board members resigning. "Are there going to be anymore cogs in the wheel?" the health care professionals asked.
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press

The deal is on.

Trustees on two boards in charge of Hutcheson Medical Center, the Fort Oglethorpe hospital losing $1 million a month, agreed Tuesday to vacate their positions and relinquish considerable power, paving the way for a partnership with Chattanooga’s largest hospital.

Tonight, Erlanger Health System’s board is expected to finalize a management agreement that will pump a $20 million line of credit into the ailing North Georgia hospital.

Hutcheson Medical Center Inc. and Hutcheson Health Enterprises Inc. decided to cede operating power to the Hospital Authority of Walker, Dade and Catoosa Counties — a nine-member group of political appointees that owns the hospital building and oversees the lease — sending a wave of relief over those who survived the North Georgia hospital’s recent round of 75 layoffs.

“I feel like we’re in the clear now,” said Gina Derryberry, a labor and delivery nurse at Hutcheson.

In the last year, Hutcheson has defaulted on a $35 million bond and hired a consulting firm to create a plan to reduce personnel. Several Hospital Authority members blamed the other boards for “bankrupting” Hutcheson, creating hostility within the community hospital’s corporate structure.

The Hospital Authority’s pro-Erlanger vote was contingent on replacing members from both operating boards with the Hospital Authority’s own trustees.

After opening the joint meeting 20 minutes late, both boards entered what became a two-hour closed session, locking out Hospital Authority members, the media and several hospital employees fresh off their shifts.

At one point, Walker County Attorney and Hospital Authority counsel Don Oliver said he was pessimistic. He indicated that Erlanger may be able to go forward without an overarching agreement from Hutcheson’s four boards, but also “without our assets and money.”

As part of the Erlanger agreement, Catoosa and Walker counties have pledged $10 million each to temporarily back up the Chattanooga hospital’s $20 million line of credit.

But concerned faces relaxed when both boards opened the meeting to spectators and agreed to give their board seats to Hospital Authority trustees, pending Erlanger’s approval of the management agreement.

Still, doubts remained.

“We’re not going to read something in the paper that you don’t like, where we’ll have to have another meeting, right Don?” one hospital employee asked Oliver, leaning in close.

The attorney didn’t answer the question directly, but said the Hospital Authority would approve the Hutcheson boards’ agreement to cede power in a separate meeting scheduled for tonight.

“I don’t foresee any problems,” he said.

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bpqd said...

This looks like some cross-border deal with Republican cronies in Georgia to lay the groundwork for exploiting state borders in the next "metro" government push.

I have little doubt that Republican businessmen will find a way to evade their responsibility to patients while raking in the money and crying poormouth cover stories.

They will find a way to tie Hutcheson's profit making to their pocketbooks with the next round of self-appointing, self-paying government and business deals.

The people will lose as a direct result of Hutechson's lack of foresight.

Hutcheson will be milked dry, resuscitated, and used as a disposable bag to hold future layoffs, after a metro push.

This is a very poor decision for everyone in the area. I think we should receive an explanation from these people as to how it is we are expected to deal with the additional leverage they created in the event we get burdened with a metro government.

Metro government at the hands of Littlefield, Corker and Kinsey's commercial real estate cronies. Now, potentially expanded to include Hutchseon Medical Center as a trash can for their problems with Erlanger.

Who cannot foresee that type of thing happening? This is yet another setup for self-appointed, self-paying commercial real estate government.

We deserve an explanation, an audit, and a law preventing corruption and containing the potential for financial mismanagement of Hutcheson, through Erlanger, by corrupt people in power today.

April 13, 2011 at 7:25 a.m.
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