A stalking horse bidder has stepped forward to claim Hutcheson Medical Center's nursing home facilities for just over $7 million, as the troubled North Georgia hospital, which is mired in bankruptcy, speeds toward the auction block.
It's one of several assets that the hospital is selling to raise cash, in order to offset millions of dollars in debt that have threatened its existence.
Debbie Jones, who signed the offer to purchase Hutcheson's nursing home, provided a street address that matches a company named New Beginnings, which identifies itself online as a "multipurpose healthcare company focused on providing the best care and services to those in need of long-term care."
However, Jones identified her company in court documents not as New Beginnings, but as Hutcheson Healthcare & Rehab, LLC, created the same day that the purchase agreement was filed with the court.
New Beginnings has facilities in Arkansas, Georgia, Ohio and Oklahoma.
Under the purchase agreement, filed jointly by Hutcheson and Jones, the hospital will sell its 109-bed nursing facility in Fort Oglethorpe, as well as 16 beds located in Hutcheson Medical Center, free and clear of all liens.
As a stalking horse bidder, Jones agreed to provide a $150,000 good faith deposit, as well as her $7 million bid, in order to help ensure that the hospital gets a good price for its assets. If no other bidders top Jones' offer, she will win the right to own the business.
In the agreement, Jones says it is her intent to "make offers of employment" to "substantially all of the employees of the nursing home," according to the contract language.
Jones' initial bid came a day before a planned hearing on whether to strip Hutcheson of bankruptcy protection entirely, among other motions.
It also came as the Walker County Development Authority voted to "move forward toward the purchase" of Hutcheson Medical Center's Chickamauga Family Practice, according to a letter from County Attorney Don Oliver.
In the letter, Oliver told Hutcheson attorney Robert Williamson that the development authority board will buy the clinic's building, grounds and equipment for $350,000. If the authority board is not allowed to buy the clinic for some reason, Oliver wrote, Commissioner Bebe Heiskell has agreed to buy the property with money from the Walker County government, which is technically a different entity from the development authority.
Neither Oliver nor Heiskell immediately returned calls for comment tonight.
Hutcheson closed its Chickamauga clinic, along with some other services, on Thursday and Friday, in addition to laying off about 70 employees. The hospital's bankruptcy lawyers will go before a judge Wednesday morning in Rome, Ga., to request that they be allowed to sell the hospital's assets in an auction.
If Walker County buys the property, it will be the second government entity to do so in two months. In September, the Dade County Development Authority bought Hutcheson's Trenton clinic for $350,000.
Dade County then leased the property to Memorial Hospital for $13 per square foot, Rumley said. With about 6,100 square feet, that price would come out to about $80,000.
Virgil Sperry, a Walker County Development Authority Board member, said the group called a special meeting after Heiskell said she was worried about the clinic's closure. Sperry said he understood that about 800 patients go to that clinic.
He said Heiskell and John Culpepper, a member of Hutcheson's board and a former Chickamauga city manager, met with representatives of Memorial Hospital on Monday. He is unclear on what the terms of any agreement with the hospital would be.
He said the vote wasn't to buy the hospital, per se — just to express interest in maybe buying it. He said the city of Chickamauga might also buy the property.
"If everything were to check out right," he said, "we would take a vote on whether to purchase the property."