published Friday, May 6th, 2011

Brexler begins outlining plans for Hutcheson


by Chris Carroll
  • photo
    This is the campus of Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe. Staff File Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Minutes after hearing about the latest $1 million monthly loss, Hutcheson Medical Center officials caught their first glimpse of Erlanger Health System’s rescue plans.

Erlanger President and CEO Jim Brexler told several members of the Fort Oglethorpe hospital’s newly consolidated board structure Thursday night that his team plans to upgrade emergency room capabilities, entice physicians who have left and develop a strategic plan within about four months.

“This work is going to take some work,” Brexler said. “No pun intended.”

Brexler sometimes apologized for “seeming presumptuous,” but he was cut off by several trustees from the Hospital Authority of Walker, Dade and Catoosa Counties.

“Don’t feel like you’re ever being presumptuous,” Hospital Authority Vice Chairman Bill Cohen said.

Brexler said Erlanger was ready to take Hutcheson’s reins “months ago,” but had to wait until the North Georgia hospital reorganized its board structure.

Several power struggles later, Hutcheson distilled four boards to two, granting large operating power to the politically appointed hospital authority trustees.

But the process took several months — Erlanger was granted management rights in late April after beginning negotiations in October — and now those months where “we wanted to get started” are already gone, Brexler said.

“We were ready to go,” he said. “So now, some work’s already going on.”

Brexler said Erlanger administrators will meet with Community Hospital Corp. officials who recently submitted a personnel plan to Hutcheson.

Based on that plan, Hutcheson officials laid off about 75 workers last month. Brexler said his team would review the plan and decide “what makes sense and what doesn’t.”

Before Brexler’s talk, Hutcheson interim chief financial officer Denise Baker reported a loss of about $1 million in March, blaming much of the problem on patient debt and indigent care.

Hutcheson officials have reported similar losses for the last several months. Baker said financial savings from the layoffs would materialize in May.

Dr. Darrell Weldon, chairman of the hospital authority, implored Erlanger to send a public message of stability.

“Everybody’s anxious to see if this is going to work,” hospital authority Chairman Darrell Weldon said.

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