After late-night talks, no Erlanger-Hutcheson hospital deal yet

After late-night talks, no Erlanger-Hutcheson hospital deal yet

June 6th, 2013 by Kate Harrison Belz and Tim Omarzu in Local Regional News

People exit Erlanger at Hutcheson in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., in this file photo.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

A full day after the deadline passed, Erlanger Health System leaders said Wednesday that negotiations involving the leasing of Hutcheson hospital in Fort Oglethorpe are "continuing."

Hutcheson leaders originally had set a Tuesday deadline for Erlanger to decide whether to enter into a leasing agreement with the North Georgia hospital.

But an agreement was not reached by then, with some phone calls going back and forth as late as 1:30 a.m. and into Wednesday morning, some leaders said.

A team from Erlanger has run the troubled Hutcheson hospital since 2011, and they say they've made its daily operations profitable.

But with some $56 million in debt, the Erlanger team says the only way they can make the hospital work long term is by getting the debt refinanced through a low-interest, 30-year bond backed by Catoosa, Walker and Dade counties.

County officials have said they'll issue the bond only if Erlanger or another hospital promises to cover the debt through a long-term lease.

County officials gave Erlanger a Tuesday deadline to issue a letter of intent to lease the hospital, which would be the first step toward hammering out a multipage lease document.

Contact Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.