It has been known as Tri-County Hospital, as Hutcheson Hospital and as Hutcheson Medical Center and now Northwest Georgia's community has a new name: Erlanger at Hutcheson.
Five months after Hutcheson Medical Center and Erlanger Health System reached a management agreement, the hospital not only has a new name but has been recognized for general excellence by a recent Joint Commission survey and is awaiting certification as a Trauma Center.
During a ceremony to make what would be significant announcements under any circumstances, Hutcheson Medical Center board chairman Corky Jewell last Friday described how the vision created by Erlanger's assuming management of Hutcheson is beginning to "get this hospital back on course and healthy again" and attain the goal of having Hutcheson become "the No. 1 health care provider for the tri-county region."
Jewell went on to say, "The new name, Erlanger at Hutcheson, represents Erlanger and Hutcheson's commitment to one another from day one. This co-brand represents the foundation of what both institutions bring to the table to provide leading edge quality and service to our patients and their families right here in North Georgia."
The new logo features Erlanger's blue and gold colors, along with the highly recognizable cross and flower icon, and carries the script "Erlanger at Hutcheson" and in smaller type "a managed service."
"Both institutions put considerable thought into the brand identification and name for Hutcheson," said Erlanger Health System trustee Kim White. "From the perspective of the Erlanger board, if we weren't 100 percent comfortable with the new direction and leadership of Hutcheson, we would not have made this major commitment. The announcement of this new name and look sends a strong message that we are all completely unified as we move forward."
In addition to lending its name, Erlanger has agreed to provide a line of credit - as much as $20 million - to help Hutcheson through this time of regeneration.
At the time of negotiating a management agreement, leaders of both institutions agreed that a key priority would be having Hutcheson's ER attain Trauma Center designation.
Two weeks ago the hospital's request for this designation was unanimously approved by all 32 members of the 16-county EMS council and Hutcheson now awaits required inspection and hopes to obtain trauma designation in early 2012.
"This was a very positive development and a significant part of our rebuilding strategy in early planning stages," said Jim Brexler, president and CEO of the Erlanger Health System. "It is one of many important steps that will bring Erlanger at Hutcheson to the forefront of providing essential quality care to North Georgia residents."
Brexler said he has witnessed "lots of changes, a lot of ups and downs and of a lot of challenges" during his career at the forefront of health care delivery.
Saying it seems that it was not so long ago that the two hospital's boards were talking about developing an integrated strategy - "stand alone doesn't work, you get the best when parties work together" - Brexler said that during the past few months a "really great game plan" has been developed and is just now starting to work.
"I want to echo what has already been said, that what you are hearing today is a carefully thought out strategic plan," he said. "This is set forth to take us into a new year with a new name and a new path."
Not only is Trauma Center designation pending, officials also announced the appointment of a new trauma coordinator for the Hutcheson emergency department, Heidi Egbert, RN.
"A major focus for us is to hire the best people for all new positions as we rebuild, and this is precisely what we are doing," said Debbie Reeves, Erlanger administrator at Hutcheson. "The growth and sustainability of this facility is a complete team effort. Our employees have endured some challenging times, but their dedication to our hospital has been tremendous. This was evidenced by our recent Joint Commission survey, with outstanding results and which led to continued accreditation for Hutcheson."
A gold seal from the Joint Commission recognizes the Fort Oglethorpe facility's overall excellence in providing the highest quality of patient care and Reeves said it is now time to "rebuild our hospital and our communities."
Part of that rebuilding will involve bringing former and adding new physicians to the hospital's staff, she said, adding that rebranding as Erlanger at Hutcheson establishes a solid foundation to move forward.
"The bottom line is that a hospital is about patient care," Reeves said. "We didn't get into this position overnight."
In terms of rebuilding a physician base at the North Georgia facility, officials noted that the Hutcheson and Erlanger team has made significant progress in recent weeks toward providing new, expanded orthopedic coverage for the hospital. Plans for expanded cardiology and general surgery services are also under way.
"We will continue to add the services we need to provide the very best health care in the area," Jewell added. "We will also be adding the most qualified physicians, staff and management to make sure our levels of care are second to none.
"The ship is turning, the course is changing and we are on the right track," he said. "The best is yet to come."