published Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Catoosa County won't get much new blood on Hutcheson hospital board

Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.
Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

RINGGOLD, Ga. — Instead of getting new blood on the board that oversees the financially troubled Hutcheson Medical Center, it's looking like Catoosa County will wind up with two longtime board members and one newcomer.

The Catoosa County Commission was informed at its meeting Tuesday night of the fate of three men -- Bill Cohen, Roger Nelson and Bill Clark -- it nominated on Jan. 21 to fill three slots on the hospital authority board.

The hospital board accepted only the county's nomination of Cohen, who has served since 1997 on the authority board. Cohen also served on the "semi private" Hutcheson Medical Center Inc. board in 2005 when it hired Charles L. Stewart as Hutcheson's president and CEO. Hospital officials later blamed Stewart for many of the missteps that have put the publicly owned Fort Oglethorpe hospital more than $60 million in debt.

However, the hospital board didn't accept the county's nomination of Clark, a former county commissioner who served in the Georgia House of Representatives, or Nelson, the owner of Interstate Machine Works who has called for current board members to step down.

The hospital authority maintains that, under state law, the county should have submitted three names for each of the three open positions, according to county attorney Chad Young.

So county commissioners opted Tuesday night to send six names for the two remaining openings: Nelson, Clark, T. Darrell Weldon, Denise Burns, Charles Hendrickson and Steve Cooper.

Commissioners indicated they wanted Weldon, an obstetrician who's served since 1991 on the hospital authority board, to be reappointed. Weldon had resigned, Young said, but rescinded his resignation. State law requires a physician serve on the board, Young said, and Weldon is the only doctor who's been nominated.

That would leave the other five nominees vying for the remaining opening after the resignation of Catoosa County hospital board member Ken Rhudy, who was appointed in 2010 but only attended meetings by phone in 2013. Rhudy lives and works about 340 miles away as a hospital administrator in south Georgia.

County commissioners expressed frustration at not having more control over having its nominees appointed to the hospital authority. Catoosa County has backed $26.5 million of the hospital's debt along with Walker County.

"We're not real happy," Commissioner DeWayne Hill said. "I would like to see these names that we offer ... put on the board."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@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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