Hospital cuts jobs to stay afloat

Murray County's struggling community hospital should be able to stay afloat after job cuts announced this week, officials said Tuesday.

"We're determined to keep the hospital open and running, and I certainly believe that we will," said Rick Bagley, chairman of the Murray County Hospital Authority.

Job cuts at Chatsworth, Ga.-based Murray Medical Center include the elimination of 16 full-time jobs and reduced hours for some temporary workers. Both changes amount to the equivalent of 34 total job cuts, in clinical and nonclinical positions, said Gary Middleton, chairman of the board of Murray Medical Center Inc., an affiliate of Hamilton Health Care System. Hamilton also owns Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Ga.

The hospital, which employed about 160 people before the cuts, won't have to cut beds or services and will not be short-staffed even after the cuts, Middleton said.

"The physicians are all on board with what we're doing," he said. "We have done this in conjunction with the medical staff so they would feel comfortable and not have any issues with quality of care."

Now hospital leaders are focused on building a stronger referral base among local physicians to increase the hospital's patient volumes, Middleton said. Murray Medical Center's daily census has been hovering around only six or seven admitted patients, he said.

In early July Murray Medical Center's financial problems elicited a warning from affiliate Hamilton Health Care System, which had loaned $7 million to Murray since 2006. The 42-bed nonprofit hospital was on track to lose $2.4 million in 2010.

Hamilton Health Care System no longer will lend Murray Medical any money to cover its monthly losses, which have been in the $100,000 to $200,000 range, Bagley said. The Murray County Hospital Authority now will cover any shortfalls but, after severance payments are made, the hospital should reach a break-even point, he said.

Murray Medical Center is leased from the Murray County Hospital Authority by Murray Medical Center Inc.

The board of Hamilton Health Care System still is considering changes to the lease, but those revisions now should not require any cuts to services offered at the hospital, said Lamar Lyle, chairman of the Hamilton board.

"It could wind up being very much a win-win for everyone," he said.

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