LaFayette buying closed Hutcheson clinic

LaFayette buying closed Hutcheson clinic

January 20th, 2017 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

The city of LaFayette, Ga., is in the final stages of buying an old Hutcheson Medical Center clinic.

The local government offered to buy the building, located on East Villanow Street, for $250,000 in November. Last week, a bankruptcy judge overseeing Hutcheson's estate approved the deal.

City Manager David Hamilton said the transaction still isn't technically finished. The city and Hutcheson's trustee have not yet signed all the paperwork, but he hopes the deal will be finished in the next couple of weeks.

Before it closed, and before a private company bought it, Hutcheson ran a collection of community clinics, located in Chickamauga, LaFayette and Trenton. But with the public hospital on its last legs, administrators shut down the clinics in the fall of 2015 because they were losing money — like most operations at the hospital at the time.

In the end, the hospital shut down in December 2015. And ApolloMD, a physician's group in Atlanta, bought the main campus in Fort Oglethorpe and renamed the building Cornerstone Medical Center.

After the LaFayette clinic closed, Hamilton said City Council members became interested in purchasing the property.

"I wouldn't say there's been an outcry [from the public]," Hamilton told the Times Free Press on Thursday. "But we've had several people tell us we need it."

Hamilton said the council wants the clinic because members want a health care provider that's open late at night, in case of an emergency.

If the purchase is final in the next couple of weeks, Hamilton said the City Council will try to strike a deal with a local health care provider to run the operation. They would be following the leaders of Chickamauga and Dade County, both of which bought Hutcheson's old clinics in 2015 and leased them to CHI Memorial Hospital.

A spokesperson for Memorial could not say by deadline Thursday whether hospital administrators have talked to LaFayette officials about taking over the clinic. Hamilton, meanwhile, declined to say whether Memorial is at the table. But, he said, the city has talked to multiple health care providers.

"Our intention would be to do something similar" to what Chickamauga and Dade County did, Hamilton said. "We don't have all the details worked out. But we wouldn't be interested in being the health care provider."

The LaFayette clinic, like those in Chickamauga and Trenton, struggled financially in the hospital's final years. According to Hutcheson board reports, the LaFayette clinic lost an average of $313,000 a year from 2010-13.

In 2014, the board reports show, the clinic actually turned a profit of $184,000. Then, in 2015, the operation lost $250,000.

Kim Plant, a 22-year Hutcheson employee who was the director of clinics until the hospital shut down, said she isn't sure why the LaFayette operation had a surprisingly good year in 2014. The patient load seemed about the same then as always: about 25-65 people every day. (The Times Free Press could not find any documentation confirming patient populations at the clinic.)

But, Plant said, the clinic's struggles didn't have anything to do with how many people showed up every day. The clinic stayed busy. The issue, she said, is that a lot of patients had Medicaid and Medicare, government insurance programs that rarely reimburse providers at the full cost of the work performed.

Plant said some other patients didn't have insurance at all, costing the clinic more money. But regardless of its bottom line, Plant said the clinic was an asset to the community because people were able to show up for urgent care or to see a primary physician from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"[Patients] were upset," she said of the closure in 2015. "That was the clinic they went to. That was the only clinic open on Saturday and Sunday in the area."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.