A charity in North Georgia has been waiting months to give away all its money. Now it can.
The Hutcheson Health Foundation once hosted galas and golf tournaments to raise funds for Hutcheson Medical Center, helping the Fort Oglethorpe hospital keep pace with the changing health care industry. It erected new offices, gave doctors new gadgets and sent nurses to special training courses.
Then, Hutcheson Medical Center died. That left the foundation holding onto about $750,000.
But on Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Brian House ruled that the foundation can give its money to other area nonprofit organizations, so long as the funds are used for the foundation's basic mission: improving health in Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties.
"We're going to meet the needs of our constituents, as we've always intended to do," said Bob Peck, the foundation's chairman and a member of its board since almost the beginning.
The foundation launched in 1991. In the last decade, records show, the charity spent about $1.1 million on the construction of the ambulatory surgery and cancer center, about $260,000 on a lobby renovation and $420,000 on gastrointestinal equipment.
In recent years, however, donations to the foundation declined as the hospital struggled financially. According to a tax filing from fiscal year 2013 - the most recent record available - the foundation received about $17,000. In 2009, by comparison, people donated about $290,000 to the charity.
In November 2014, Hutcheson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with about $80 million in liabilities. ApolloMD, an Atlanta-based physician's group, bought the hospital in May, renaming it Cornerstone Medical Center and turning it into a private enterprise.
That left the foundation looking for new outlets for its money. The board petitioned the court in June to give it permission to use the money because some of its donations had been specifically earmarked for services it can no longer honor. For example, some money came to the charity with the specific purpose of improving the hospital's cancer center.
Peck said he and other board members have already talked to representatives from local nonprofit organizations interested in getting some of the foundation's money. He hopes to compile a list of all options and gather the board for a meeting within a month. Then, they can make decisions.
He said he hopes all the money is gone by the end of the year.
"There are a lot of good people and causes," board member Betts Berry said, "but if they're not directly bringing health care to the three counties, I don't think we will be providing them with funds. We will decide as a group."
Berry's family helped raise money for Hutcheson to open in 1952. At the time, officials from Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties had received federal funding to help open a hospital as part of a government program to increase access to health care in rural communities.
"We are very serious about fulfilling the mission of the foundation, even though the hospital is no longer there," Berry said. "We are very serious about being good stewards of that money."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.