Corky's a corker

Corky's a corker

May 22nd, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

Erlanger at Hutcheson Board of Directors Chairman Corky Jewell calls the hospital "my biggest challenge." Photo by Mike O'Neal

During more than 30 years as a Georgia State Patrol officer Corky Jewell served at patrol posts such as those in LaFayette and Dalton, was officer in command when a bomb was detonated during the 1996 Olympic Games and planned communications for the G8 Summit held at Sea Island in 2004.

But he says neither those nor tasks in his subsequent career as a businessman were more difficult than what he faces as chairman of the board of directors for Erlanger at Hutcheson hospital.

"Hutcheson Medical Center is my biggest challenge," he said of the Fort Oglethorpe-based hospital.

Though a great uncle was an original member of the hospital authority and served until about 1967, Jewell said he never planned to follow in those footsteps.

Instead, he said it was during conversations with Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell, "about early 2002," regarding another venture that she asked if he would be interested in serving on the local hospital authority board.

Jewell said he joined the board about a year later, just about the time the hospital sued the county regarding payment for indigent care.

"It was a learning experience," Jewell recalled. "After that was resolved, this crisis occurred."

The crisis referred to is the near collapse of what had begun as Tri-County Hospital in the 1950s and was then known as Hutcheson Medical Center. The hospital was strapped for cash, its patient census was declining and physicians were leaving to practice elsewhere.

Though Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties owned the grounds and buildings, the hospital authority had no power when it came to daily operations of how the hospital was run. Those decisions were made by another independent board of directors.

"We were like mushrooms, kept in the dark," Jewell said of the hospital authority.

But as time, patients, doctors and money ran out a major restructuring was undertaken. Hutcheson's various boards were consolidated into one that could negotiate a union with another hospital or hospital system.

"We know this place has value," Jewell said. "Its recovery will occur a step at a time."

Chairman's Notes

Q&A with D.A. "Corky" Jewell.

Q: Your first paying job?

A: Being hired to do a security burn of old records at the Bank of Chickamauga. I was about 12.

Q: What led you to a career in law enforcement?

A: Dad was fire and police commissioner when I was growing up in Chickamauga. There was some involvement with fire trucks, the Hamilton County Rescue Squad and auxiliary police.

After working at Salem Carpets, I decided to do something more exciting and was hired as a radio operator/jailer by Sheriff Ralph Jones in 1973.

Q: You left a sheriff's department to join the police force at the University of Georgia. What is memorable about that period?

A: The big thing then was streaking; running naked in public. I was on duty the night a Guinness Book of World Records was set on the UGA campus for streaking.

Q: Do you have a motto or creed?

A:Try to learn something new every day and apply it to make things better.

Q: Hobbies?

A:Motorcycles since I was 16 - I've got the scars to prove it.

Q: Family?

A:A wife, Terri, and three daughters.

Q: What do you see as keys to Erlanger at Hutcheson's success?

A:Having doctors who will admit patients. The Gold Seal of accreditation shows we can give the highest level of care - none are better at what we do. We've got the staff and it is gradually getting better. We need to earn the trust of doctors who left and recruit new doctors.

In a move to assure the hospital's continued service to the region, a management agreement between HMC and Erlanger Health System was brokered and became effective May 26, 2011.

"One reason Erlanger was chosen was that it is a teaching hospital, another is that it offers women's services and yet another is that management for Erlanger and Hutcheson is all local," Jewell said.

Nearly a year after the hospitals joined forces - and about six months since HMC was later rebranded as Erlanger at Hutcheson - signs of changing the hospital and its fortunes are visible.

"We still have a lot to do," Jewell said. "It's like eating an elephant, you do it one bite at a time."

Just as he did not set out to join the hospital's board, his career in law enforcement with the GSP did not follow a direct point A to point B path. Instead, Jewell first worked for Walker County Sheriff Ralph Jones as a jailer, radio dispatcher and record manager.

Those latter two positions have been key to his successes in several high-profile positions with the state Department of Safety involved with planning and developing standards for the law enforcement's radar and communications systems.

That background has been a benefit during the hospital's recent travails and transition.

Experience with administrative duties is serving Jewell in strategic planning as board chairman. His anti-terrorism training and tactical command experience shown during the Olympics were highlighted earlier this year when a gunman shot two people dead in the hospital's waiting area.

After retiring from the GSP, Jewell took some time off to cruise the country on his Harley-Davidson bike before going back to work selling video and radar equipment to law enforcement and security agencies across the Southeast. As a sales rep, he was every bit the corker - by definition, an excellent or astonishing person - he had been at previous posts.

When asked if that was somehow prophetic or had led him to excel, Jewell shrugged it off with a more down-to-earth explanation, particularly in the football-fevered South.

"I've been known by this nickname since before I can remember," he said and explained why Daniel Ashley Jewell V, the name used at his christening, could have led to confusion.

"When I was born there was already a 'Big Ashley,' a 'Little Ashley' and my parents didn't want me to be called 'Baby Ashley,'" he said. "In the 1950s the University of Alabama football team had a backfield with Bill Oliver, Bart Starr and Corky Tharp and that is where 'Corky' comes from."