Mass layoffs, services cut at Hutcheson Medical Center

Mass layoffs, services cut at Hutcheson Medical Center

October 17th, 2015 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Hutcheson Medical Center is a shell of its former self.

Administrators at the Fort Oglethorpe hospital closed almost all of its services Thursday and Friday, multiple sources close to Hutcheson told the Times Free Press. The hospital also laid off about 70 employees.

The services shut down include the Chickamauga clinic, the Battlefield Lung Specialists, and the Multi-Family Practice Clinic on Battlefield Parkway and the intensive care unit, multiple sources say. This leaves an emergency room, about 10 of the hospital's 179 beds and a "skeleton crew" in the radiology, respiratory and cardiology departments, as well as the cancer center and the ambulatory surgery center.

Seven patients were in the hospital Friday.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

"They have no services," said one employee. "If you go to the ER, then they have to send them to other hospitals."

Six sources with ties to the hospital all spoke to the Times Free Press on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Hutcheson CEO Farrell Hayes did not respond to an email or a call seeking comment.

State Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, who is the son of the Hutcheson board chairman and also is representing the hospital in a civil lawsuit against Erlanger Medical Center, said he did not know of the layoffs and cutbacks at Hutcheson until a reporter called him Friday evening.

A board member said he did not know about the events either, except for the shutdown of the Chickamauga clinic. Hayes told the board about that in an email Thursday. The board member asked for anonymity because only the board chairman is authorized to speak to media.

This week's layoffs were the third round in two months. In September, Hayes told the Hutcheson board that administrators let 58 employees go.

According to some employees still working there, several people laid off this week continually called Hayes on Friday but could not reach him. Some did not receive their paychecks this week, unlike those still on staff. Administrators told the laid-off employees that they would receive their paychecks one week late, multiple sources say.

The admitting department will not be open after Monday and patients will be registered through the emergency room.

Directors told some of the remaining workers they will work only 32 hours per week for the indefinite future.

"You could take the 32 hours," one employee said she was told, "or you could take a layoff."

Some employees said they are worried they will soon lose their jobs, too. One source said an employee was laid off after working for the hospital for 27 years — her whole professional career. She looked distraught, the source said.

"People are saying it has been the worst day ever there," said a former employee who was laid off in September. "It's absolutely awful."

Another source said employees believed Hayes when he told them in meetings this year that the hospital's finances were better than the press reported.

Hutcheson Medical Center leaders are looking to sell the hospital.

Hutcheson Medical Center leaders are looking to sell...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

"People who really knew better listened to Farrell," the source said. "They either listened to him because — No. 1 — they knew they couldn't get a job elsewhere, or they knew they couldn't get a job with that kind of money elsewhere. They were 'all in' because they had everything to lose. They're out (now) and they're tired. They think Farrell has lied to them. They think Farrell has manipulated things."

With $80 million in liabilities, Hutcheson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last November. The declaration allowed administrators to hit the pause button, being able to continue to function while not having to make debt payments. The hospital's leaders were supposed to present a reorganization plan.

In August, when administrators still had not filed a plan, the U.S. trustee appointed to oversee Hutcheson's case asked a bankruptcy judge to put an end to Hutcheson's bankruptcy protection. The trustee also said the hospital had added an extra $6 million of debt since November.

That extra debt included about $1.8 million to the group that administers the health insurance plan for Hutcheson's employees, which is the subject of a U.S. Department of Labor investigation. The company that carried the hospital's health insurance claimed Hutcheson failed to make payments.

At a Sept. 2 court hearing to determine whether the bankruptcy case would continue, Hayes testified that he believed a suitor would make a formal offer to buy the hospital within about a week. The U.S. trustee then dropped his motion.

This week, an attorney for Hutcheson filed a motion to begin the process to set up a private auction for the hospital and all its assets. The hospital's attorneys are supposed to go before a bankruptcy judge Wednesday.

Inside the Fort Oglethorpe hospital, meanwhile, some employees wondered what was next.

"It's sad," one source said. "We are having a very hard time getting supplies. Paper has been scarce here lately. We do not give out crutches anymore. The patient is written a (prescription) for it and they have to go to a pharmacy."

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


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