published Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe forced to go it alone

Aerial of Hutcheson Medical Center at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.
Aerial of Hutcheson Medical Center at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Hutcheson Medical Center officials sought to put a positive spin Monday night at being left at the altar without an acceptable suitor.

The struggling Fort Oglethorpe hospital, which has some $60 million in debt, is going to stay independent and go it alone, they said, after revealing only two health care organizations applied to request for proposals to manage Hutcheson — Erlanger Health System and Liberty Health.

“We had hoped we would have got more [offers] than that,” hospital board Chairman Corky Jewell said.

Hutcheson officials only negotiated with Erlanger and didn’t pursue Liberty Health’s offer, officials said.

Jewell declined to say what the shortcomings of Erlanger’s offer were.

Erlanger managed Hutcheson until several months ago, but Hutcheson officials decided to part ways with the Chattanooga hospital.

In the short term, Hutcheson’s board voted to ask for a $2 million loan from the three counties that created Hutcheson.

Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell held a special meeting Monday morning to announce she is willing to back a $2 million loan from Regions Bank to keep the hospital afloat through the year’s end.

“They won’t make another payroll without some backing,” Heiskell said. Almost 800 people representing almost that many families work at Hutcheson, she said.

Walker and Catoosa counties already have backed two loans to Hutcheson through Regions Bank totaling $6 million; an additional $2 million would bring the total to $8 million.

Heiskell said the exact loan amount that Walker is willing to back depends on support from the other two counties.

“I don’t believe we will participate,” Catoosa County Commission Chairman Keith Greene said at 6 p.m. Monday when the hospital board meeting began.

Dade County officials weren’t immediately available after the Hutcheson board meeting ended at 10 p.m. But in the past, Dade County has excluded itself from backing hospital loans.

The hospital board asked Catoosa and Dade counties to hold special meetings Wednesday to vote on the $2 million loan.

Long-term, Hutcheson will take steps to make the hospital more efficient, Jewell said, though he declined to elaborate.

Also, a lender may help, Jewell said in a news release issue after the meeting ended.

“‪We are pleased that a major lender is working with Hutcheson to identify the best long-term solution for keeping Hutcheson an independent entity,” the statement read. “We are strengthened by the support and encouraged about our future.”‬

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at timomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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