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Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., is pictured on Oct. 21.
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Hutcheson Medical Centered is pictured in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

Hutcheson Medical Center opened its doors to patients again Tuesday afternoon.

The hospital's emergency department, radiology department and lab relaunched at 4 p.m., said Kimberly Johnson, a spokeswoman for ApolloMD. The news comes 18 days after the bankrupt hospital closed, its administrators saying they did not have enough money to continue operating.

The hospital's leaders said earlier this month they feared Hutcheson was doomed to close forever, with $82 million of debt and no white knight on the horizon. During a Dec. 11 bankruptcy court hearing, however, ApolloMD offered to buy Hutcheson for $4.2 million. ApolloMD is a physician's group based in Atlanta that staffs more than 100 hospitals across the country.

The company also has been in charge of Hutcheson's emergency department since June. After a bankruptcy court judge approved ApolloMD's offer to buy Hutcheson last week, the company's employees began to prepare the hospital to see patients again, ripping plywood off its windows and removing bags that covered Hutcheson's signs.

ApolloMD is not yet the owner of Hutcheson, simply the manager. Though a judge has approved the company's $4.2 million offer, ApolloMD still needs to obtain its own hospital license from a state agency, among other procedural steps, to become the official owner.

But while that is developing, ApolloMD's employees will run the hospital as if it is the owner. The company has not yet released a strategic plan for how it will make the hospital economically viable, especially after years of losing money and receiving negative attention. Johnson said the company will probably share a long-term plan in January.

With the hospital reopening, some former Hutcheson employees have regained their jobs.

Angela Polizzi, a former pre-certification specialist at the hospital, said her husband, Scott, is working at the hospital. He stripped and cleaned the floors in the emergency department, she said, preparing the hospital to see patients again.

Polizzi said other employees have been moving beds into place and repairing ceiling tiles that had fallen.

Johnson said ApolloMD has hired more than 50 former Hutcheson employees, many of whom lost their jobs when the hospital closed Dec. 4. On a Facebook page for former Hutcheson employees, some people have celebrated new job offers in the last couple of days.

"This girl now works pm for ApolloMD!" Alesia Wallin, who works in the hospital's lab, wrote Monday night.

"The ER is officially open!" Joey Lynch, another employee, wrote Tuesday afternoon.

Hutcheson opened in 1953 as part of a national push to put more hospitals in small communities. The federal government and local donors funded the construction.

The hospital began to struggle financially, however, in the mid-2000s as the result of competition from Chattanooga hospitals, the loss of some key physicians and an increase in uninsured patients after the recession. In November 2014, the hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Erlanger Health System, which loaned Hutcheson $20 million in 2011, held a lien on the hospital, meaning it could legally move to foreclose on the building if it wanted to. However, Erlanger leaders sign off on a deal to let ApolloMD buy the hospital.

Erlanger can also demand its money from Catoosa and Walker counties, whose elected officials voted to guarantee that $20 million loan in 2011.

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

Updated Dec. 22 at 11:55 p.m.

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