published Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Hutcheson to request additional funding

Hutcheson Medical Center
Hutcheson Medical Center
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Hutcheson Medical Center's leadership has voted to ask for more money from Walker, Dade and Catoosa counties as it seeks a partner to lease or buy the hospital.

A resolution passed unanimously by both the Hospital Authority and the Board of Directors of Hutcheson Medical Center on Thursday night directs the hospital's management team to "evaluate and identify" available hospital resources, and "if needed, seek necessary funding from Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties and to remit timely payment for debt obligations legally required to operate the hospital."

The resolution provides no details regarding the amount of funding or the time line for the request.

Bill Chapin, the hospital trustee appointed by Walker County, said there is "nothing different" about this request than previous requests for county support.

"We're in a cash crunch, we need support from the counties, and that is what we've asked for," Chapin said.

Asked for more information, Chapin said the resolution "speaks for itself" and that the board was working to "make sure Hutcheson will be in good shape."

He provided no details.

Hutcheson is owned by Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties.

Last month, Catoosa County was poised to offer a $35 million bailout in bond anticipation notes to help refinance the Fort Oglethorpe hospital's roughly $60 million in debt, but commissioners tabled the vote.

Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell has balked at backing such a large offer, saying she couldn't obligate taxpayers for such an amount.

She offered instead to help extend the hospital's line of credit with a smaller amount.

On Friday, Heiskell said she wasn't privy to the details of the board's new request, but said in one week the hospital would be reviewing responses to its requests for proposal for leasing the hospital, and would be able to draw up a more detailed strategy for funding.

Dade County Commissioner Ted Rumley also said he did not know the details of what the board was asking for, but said the county "can't obligate our taxpayers' money until we have some guarantee of repayment."

Catoosa County Commission Chairman Keith Greene could not be reached Friday.

Hutcheson CEO Roger Forgey said his management team has not yet been told what evaluations may need to take place in regards to the resolution.

Forgey is technically an employee of Erlanger Health System, which is currently engaged in a management agreement with Hutcheson. Hutcheson is in the process of breaking off that agreement.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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