published Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Erlanger at Hutcheson continues to bleed money

Hutcheson Medical Center.
Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Hutcheson Medical Center. Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press
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Erlanger at Hutcheson Losses

• $1,854,553 -- July

• $1,797,162 -- August

• $2,653,937 -- September

• $1,619,602 -- October

• $1,081,867 -- November

Source: Erlanger at Hutcheson

Despite a new board, new management and the infusion of a $20 million line of credit, a struggling North Georgia public hospital continues to lose money.

Erlanger at Hutcheson, formerly known as Hutcheson Medical Center, lost more than $9 million in the first five months of the 2012 fiscal year, which began in July. It lost the most -- $2.7 million -- in September.

Hutcheson board Chairman Corky Jewell could not be reached for comment last week.

The hospital's administrator, Debbie Reeves, and other management personnel were not in the office the week between Christmas and New Year's, according to spokeswoman Haley Johnson.

The publicly funded hospital in Fort Oglethorpe had been losing about $1 million a month, defaulted on a $35 million bond and laid off 75 employees in fiscal year 2011.

In May, Erlanger Health System took over management of the hospital and extended up to $20 million in credit to it.

The Hutcheson board and finance committee both have announced public meetings for Wednesday.

Johnson said officials would be available to discuss the hospital's finances this week. She also said she would not be able to provide the number of patients admitted daily to the hospital until this week.

The hospital had 40 to 50 patients a day earlier this year, with a staff of about 800.

The monthly losses come at a time when Erlanger also has struggled financially, losing more than $6 million this fiscal year.

It is not clear how much of Hutcheson's losses have been covered by the line of credit.

Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles did not respond to an email requesting a figure on how much of the money Hutcheson has tapped so far.

After Erlanger assumed management of Hutcheson, the North Georgia hospital saw a shake-up on the three boards that manage it -- the Hospital Authority of Walker, Dade and Catoosa Counties; Hutcheson Health Enterprises; and Hutcheson Medical Center.

Most members of the two Hutcheson boards were asked to resign and the nine members of the multicounty hospital authority then were appointed to serve on the Hutcheson Health Enterprises and Hutcheson Medical Center boards.

Four additional members were named to serve on each of the two boards, while the hospital authority board retained its original nine members.

Reeves, who previously had served as chief nursing officer for Hutcheson, assumed the role of interim CEO. There is no plan to hire a CEO at this time, hospital officials have said.

A document summarizing the agreement between Erlanger and Hutcheson released in May also mentions a $15 million physician recruitment plan, but officials said it was a preliminary figure.

Last month, Hutcheson board members announced they had voted to stop severance payments for former President and CEO Charles L. Stewart. Jewell said Stewart improperly managed the hospital and may have left it vulnerable to federal sanctions.

When Stewart resigned in February, the previous Hutcheson board approved a 15-month severance package that would have been worth as much as $407,000.

Jewell said the board was focused on returning the hospital to a financially viable institution.

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about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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