Hutcheson Medical Center takes on Erlanger name

photo Erlanger at Hutcheson Administrator Debbie Reeves talks Friday about the new name of the hospital. Erlanger Health System CEO Jim Brexler listens in back.

Hutcheson Medical Center took on the Erlanger brand name as of Friday, and officials with both hospitals see the change as a chance to regain confidence in the North Georgia hospital, which has become synonymous with fleeing physicians, layoffs and mounting debt.

Being renamed as Erlanger at Hutcheson was inevitable, officials said Friday at a news conference, after Erlanger Health Systems agreed to manage the facility in May and extended up to $20 million in credit.

"Hutcheson is still there, but with Erlanger on top, they will make sure things are on the right track," Georgia Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickaumauga, said after the announcement. "They have a lot to lose."

The publicly funded hospital had reported $1 million monthly losses, defaulted on a $35 million bond and laid off 75 employees before the deal with Erlanger was struck. At the end of September, the struggling hospital hired Waterhouse Public Relations, based in Chattanooga, to improve its public persona.

In one significant stride since Erlanger took over management, Hutcheson is regaining its trauma center status, a move approved by the state's regional emergency medical authority, officials said. The hospital lost the status more than a decade ago in 2000.

Erlanger CEO and President Jim Brexler told a group of a hundred people in the hospital lobby on Friday that he felt the old stand-alone hospital model is becoming a thing of the past. Joining together and leveraging individual strength is the only way to move forward in the hospital industry, he said.

"We are not all the way across the goal line," Brexler said. "I think we have a great opportunity to bring that glory back to this institution."

There have also been improvements in cardiology and orthopedics at the hospital. Administrators want to promote these gains to attract doctors again, said Debbie Reeves, administrator at Erlanger at Hutcheson.

"It is time for us to rebuild our hospital and rebuild our communities," Reeves said. "This move forward will provide us with a solid foundation."

But completely reviving the Hutcheson facility's financial health will take time, many said.

Anita Beard, who has worked as a nurse at the hospital off and on for 13 years, said she expects a slow trickle of physicians returning to Erlanger at Hutcheson over time. Then an upswing in emergency department services and cardiology services will happen, and eventually patients will come back, she said.

"It is a start of a change," Beard said. "We didn't devolve in a minute, and we aren't going to evolve in a minute."