Good news, bad news mark Hutcheson-Erlanger merger

Good news, bad news mark Hutcheson-Erlanger merger

July 27th, 2011 by Mike O'Neal in Local Regional News

The recent agreement that Erlanger Health Systems manage Hutcheson Medical Center can be considered a success only if patients fill rooms at the hospital in Fort Oglethorpe.

HMC has hemorrhaged cash for several years, including losses of about $13 million in the current fiscal year that ends in September, and administrators hope a joint operating agreement can reverse those losses.

Critical to improving the hospital's financial condition is filling its beds, and that requires doctors willing to admit and treat patients. Erlanger has begun fulfilling its commitment to provide HMC an infusion of specialists, but it will take time to make the hospital fiscally fit.

Not only has Hutcheson continued to maintain cardiology coverage for emergency care, that service is growing, according to HMC marketing director Haley Johnson.

As of July 20, Dr. John Hemphill is providing cardiology coverage to Hutcheson. He is board-certified in interventional cardiology and internal medicine, has served as a medical mission volunteer in Nicaragua and speaks conversational Spanish.

"I am looking forward to continuing to provide cardiology services to Georgia residents at Hutcheson as the newest member of the UT Erlanger Cardiology practice," Hemphill said.

Johnson said the hospital is finalizing agreements with orthopedic surgeons and soon hopes to "report details of who those specialists are and their office location[s]."

Earlier this year, Erlanger officials proposed recruiting 15 new doctors for the North Georgia hospital as part of merger negotiations in the belief that such an influx would raise the patient census and return HMC to solvency within two years.

"The No. 1 priority for Hutcheson is to work in collaboration with Erlanger to restore the presence of subspecialty physicians and provide assurance of coverage to all our referring physicians," said Debbie Reeves, Erlanger administrator at Hutcheson.

The gradual loss of such subspecialists has been a steady drain on Hutcheson's ability to attract patients from area physicians.

A case in point is the decision made July 1 by the eight-doctor TCFPA Family Medical Center to stop admitting patients or making rounds at Hutcheson.

"It took our group some time to come to this decision; we had seen a decline in available specialty services over a period of several years," Dr. David Denman said.

This month's decision marks the end of more than 40 years that TCFPA doctors have made rounds at Hutcheson.

Tri-County Hospital, formed in 1953 to serve Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties, was renamed Hutcheson Medical Center in 1985. TCFPA was formed in 1971 and one of its founding partners, Dr. Ralph Greene, had been one of the first physicians to practice at Tri-County Hospital.

That early association led the group to name itself Tri-County Family Practice Associates. But just as the Tri-County is no more, the medical group no longer makes rounds at its namesake hospital.

Denman said that while TCFPA will continue leasing office space at Hutcheson On the Parkway - from a real estate investment trust, not from Hutcheson Medical Center - its doctors now only make rounds at Memorial Hospital.

"In no way, shape or form did Memorial have any input into our leaving," he said. "Ties with Hutcheson have not been cut completely, but there was no speciality area where they had coverage. It is promising that they are trying to make strides."