Despite employing a full-time communications director, Hutcheson Medical Center on Wednesday announced a short-term contract with Waterhouse Public Relations to bolster the ailing hospital's media strategy.
"We want our story to go to the right people in the right format," said Bill Cohen, vice chairman of the Hospital Authority of Walker, Dade and Catoosa counties. "And we're committed to transparency."
Exact figures for the Waterhouse contract were not immediately available Wednesday night. Cohen said "not a whole lot of money" was involved, so Erlanger Health System, Hutcheson's overseer, already "activated the plan."
In April, Erlanger agreed to manage Hutcheson after the latter defaulted on a $35 million bond and reported several monthly operating losses of $1 million or more, a trend that continues today.
Albert Waterhouse, president of the company that bears his name, said his firm would charge Hutcheson between $150 and $200 an hour to handle media relations and special events.
Corky Jewell, chairman of two other Hutcheson boards, said the North Georgia hospital would foot the public relations bill, adding that Waterhouse has an initial "40-hour ceiling."
The management agreement between Erlanger and Hutcheson allows the Chattanooga hospital to lend up to $20 million in credit. Pat Charles, an Erlanger spokeswoman, said Waterhouse fees would not come from that source.
Haley Johnson is Hutcheson's marketing director and media contact. She did not attend Wednesday's meeting, and her salary was unavailable. Waterhouse said his company would work "very closely" with Johnson.
Trustees were careful to avoid criticism of Johnson, but Jewell said they wanted more "positive stories" promoted in a timely manner.
Waterhouse handles media strategy for several other government clients, including EPB and Chattanooga's 21st Century Waterfront.
The public relations announcement came moments after trustees reviewed the latest bleak financial numbers. Hutcheson lost $1.5 million in August, bringing their year-to-date losses to $12.5 million.
Hutcheson's boards also passed a new budget -- the hospital's fiscal year begins in October -- that predicts a $2.6 million overall operating loss.