Plan to lease Hutcheson to Erlanger falls through, Georgia hospital to seek other suitors

Plan to lease Hutcheson to Erlanger falls through, Georgia hospital to seek other suitors

August 10th, 2013 by Tim Omarzu in Local - Breaking News

Hutcheson Medical Center

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

The proposed lease of Hutcheson Medical Center to Erlanger Health System died quietly Friday night - the deadline for the deal to be signed.

At 5 p.m. Friday, a handful of Hutcheson officials met for about an hour behind closed doors at the Fort Oglethorpe hospital.

Just after midnight Saturday, Waterhouse Public Relations, which was hired by Hutcheson, issued a three-sentence news release stating that Hutcheson will seek bids from others entities to run the hospital, which is owned by Catoosa, Walker and Dade counties.

Waterhouse spokeswoman Nathalie Strickland wouldn't say Saturday afternoon exactly what killed the deal.

"They weren't able to formalize the lease agreement," Strickland said. "The negotiations of a strategic plan and the deal points are confidential."

The hospital has $56 million in debt. Its owners Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties, were asked to issue low-interest, 30-year bonds to reduce the hospital's debt payments to a manageable $3.2 million a year. But they wouldn't agree unless Erlanger promised to secure the debt so taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook if the hospital fails.

Those were the sides' public stances. All lease negotiations have been behind closed doors.

See complete coverage in Sunday's Times Free Press.