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Workers finish boarding up the former emergency room entrance at Hutcheson Medical Center earlier this month.
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Workers wrap the signage and board up the former Emergency Room entrance at Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

Patients should be able to return to Hutcheson Medical Center next week.

A spokesperson for ApolloMD, the company that is now managing Hutcheson, said employees are preparing the hospital to begin operations. The process will take several days as ApolloMD hires a staff and gets different parts of the hospital running again.

On Thursday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Paul Bonapfel signed an order to let ApolloMD manage Hutcheson. ApolloMD, an Atlanta-based physicians' group with staffs in more than 100 hospitals, plans to buy Hutcheson for $4.2 million. But that deal will take months to complete because of state regulations and health care laws.

Hutcheson's administrators filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2014, when the hospital was about $82 million in debt. On Dec. 4 of this year, Hutcheson shut its doors, its leaders believing the hospital no longer had enough money to operate.

On Dec. 11, a lawyer representing a subsidiary of ApolloMD presented the company's offer in court. After more lawyers for a bank and a hospital and a couple of county governments reviewed the offer and did not object, Bonapfel said Monday he planned to accept the deal.

"We are excited to be part of the Fort Oglethorpe community and to work toward providing the best in patient care and service delivery," Dr. Mike Dolister, CEO of ApolloMD, said in a statement Thursday. "The opportunity to establish a partnership with a community who has fought to keep the doors of their hospital open is a challenge we look forward to facing."

Dolister's statement came hours after other attorneys involved in the case said the hospital would reopen today. Stuart James, an attorney representing Walker County, celebrated the news.

"[Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell] is thrilled that Hutcheson Medical Center will be reopened," James said in a statement. "Since Walker County asked me to represent it in this matter, I have worked closely with [County Attorney] Don Oliver and Commissioner Heiskell, and we have shared a common goal — to get this hospital to remain open or to be reopened so that it can provide much-needed health care to the residents of Walker County and North Georgia."

Rob Williamson, who represents the trustee overseeing Hutcheson's finances, said today's "reopening" is technically true, though a bit misleading. The hospital's doors are open as ApolloMD gets the hospital ready to run again. However, patients should not yet come to Hutcheson with any medical needs.

"Apollo wants to get it open as quickly as possible," Williamson said, "but I haven't talked to anybody about what logistically they have to do to start seeing patients."

Kimberly Johnson, the clinical communications director for ApolloMD, said the company hopes to accept patients early next week. But it has not announced a firm opening date.

Some ApolloMD employees have worked at Hutcheson since June, when Hutcheson hired the company to staff its emergency department. Dr. Matt Astin, who was chairman of Hutcheson's emergency department after ApolloMD took over, announced on Facebook earlier this week that the company's leaders would reopen the hospital soon.

Astin wrote that ApolloMD administrators were deciding which former Hutcheson employees should get job offers. Because the company won't own Hutcheson for several more months, ApolloMD would offer 60-90-day contracts. Eventually, it will provide long-term offers.

"This is really happening!" he wrote.

After Hutcheson closed two weeks ago, workers nailed plywood over its windows and doors and draped a tarp over the sign on LaFayette Road. By Thursday, the sign was uncovered again, as were some of the openings to the hospital — though the women's center remained boarded up.

Among other items on ApolloMD's to-do list, Johnson said, the company needs to appoint a staff for the hospital and relaunch its labs.

ApolloMD has still not shared its plan with the public, beyond opening the emergency room. Technically, the hospital has until Thursday to reopen, based on a deadline from the Georgia Department of Community Health.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@times freepress.com or at 423-757-6476.

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