Hutcheson sees improvement, but hospital still losing money

Hutcheson sees improvement, but hospital still losing money

July 13th, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

Hutcheson Medical Center's financial losses weren't quite as bad in May as they've been for the last year, but the number still is likely to cause some double takes - $888,960.

The publicly funded North Georgia hospital had reported several consecutive million-dollar monthly losses and laid off dozens of employees before Erlanger Health System agreed in May to manage Hutcheson and offer the struggling hospital up to $20 million in credit.

Hutcheson had savings from April's 75 layoffs - the hospital paid $1 million less in salaries than it did in May 2010 - but trustees and top executives said the hospital has a long way to go.

"I'm just happy there's improvement," said Bill Chapin, the CEO of Rock City who serves on various Hutcheson boards.

Erlanger President and CEO Jim Brexler has pushed to "rebuild the physician base," claiming it's the way to avoid layoffs and revitalize Hutcheson.

His overall success is unclear. A group of eight Hutcheson-affiliated doctors recently decided to admit patients and perform rounds only at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga.

Denise Baker, Hutcheson interim chief financial officer, said the hospital's focus "is to fill gaps in specialty coverage for Hutcheson." Among the specialties needed are surgeons and pulmonology physicians, officials have said.

The hospital's fiscal year began last October. Since then, Hutcheson has lost more than $13 million, including the May losses.

Doug Fisher, Erlanger's vice president of governmental affairs, said major losses are possible for "up to 18 months" as Chattanooga hospital executives work their way through various problems at Hutcheson.

The Hospital Authority of Walker, Dade and Catoosa Counties is responsible for monitoring Hutcheson's use of public funds, but Chapin said trustees are allowing Brexler and his staff plenty of leeway.

"I'm not going to micromanage anything," Chapin said.