FORT OGLETHORPE - Before a meeting that dealt with merging both hospitals, Erlanger Health System President and CEO Jim Brexler walked into applause, settled into his seat and tapped a Hutcheson Medical Center official on the shoulder.
"No pun intended, but we've got your back," Brexler said.
One more step, and he's right.
Trustees of the Hospital Authority of Walker, Dade and Catoosa Counties voted Wednesday night to enter a partnership that will keep the struggling North Georgia community hospital alive. The deal bounces back to Erlanger's board of trustees, who must also approve it.
Before officials announced the biggest step yet toward unity, Hospital Authority trustees entered a closed session to discuss a potential partnership, locking out Erlanger representatives and 150 observers for more than two hours.