Dade, Walker and Catoosa Counties to hold Hutcheson hospital meeting

Dade, Walker and Catoosa Counties to hold Hutcheson hospital meeting

March 8th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis<br/> Hutcheson Medical Center.

Dade, Walker and Catoosa County, Ga., residents worried about Hutcheson Medical Center's uncertain future will have a chance to ask questions and voice concerns Thursday night.

Officials in Walker, Catoosa and Dade will hold a town hall-style meeting to discuss funding and other issues surrounding Hutcheson.

"We're just simply there to answer questions about what the public wants to know," said Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell. "This is a community hospital that was built by the community and is very important. It's important to our people, it's important to our county governments and it's an important part of our economic development."

Last week, leaders in the three counties sent a letter to the Hutcheson board of directors, demanding more of a voice in partnership negotiations between Hutcheson and Erlanger Health System.

IF YOU GO

What: Tri-county town hall meeting on Hutcheson Medical Center

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Colonnade Center, 264 Catoosa Circle, Ringgold, Ga.

Hutcheson leaders are working to forge a partnership with the larger Chattanooga-based hospital in the hopes that an alliance will help recruit physicians and bring patients back into Hutcheson's beds.

Hutcheson is losing about $1 million a month and has lost more than $7 million each of the past two fiscal years. It's also in default on a $35 million bond issue.

Erlanger officials would like additional financial backing from the counties to ensure Hutcheson could pay off the estimated $25 million it reportedly needs to stabilize itself.

County officials have agreed to discuss securing Erlanger's future investment in Hutcheson in exchange for a seat at the head of the negotiating table and greater operational control of the hospital.

The letter sent by the counties stipulates that their guarantee of Erlanger's investment would not put any risk on taxpayers.

Heiskell said Monday the proposal "to our best knowledge" wouldn't put taxpayer dollars at risk.

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley said the counties could offer up Hutcheson's property and buildings as collateral if Hutcheson could not repay its debt.

Heiskell said she and other county commissioners don't have a lot of faith in the way the hospital is run.

"Maybe there's an answer there, but nobody's heard it," she said. "I'm not sure one board knows what the other is doing."

Staff writer Emily Bregel contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Andy Johns at ajohns@timesfree press.com or call 423-757-6324.