published Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Hutcheson gadfly nominated for Catoosa County Commission

Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.
Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The squeaky wheel got the appointment in Catoosa County, Ga.

Roger Nelson, the gadfly who called for the mass resignation of board members at the debt-ridden Hutcheson Medical Center, may soon help oversee the publicly owned Fort Oglethorpe hospital.

Nelson and Bill Clark were appointed Tuesday night by the Catoosa County Commission to take the place of board members T. Darrell Weldon and Ken Rhudy, who resigned.

The hospital authority board must confirm the nominations. It meets next at 6 p.m. Jan. 29.

Nelson speaks regularly about the hospital at County Commission meetings and has sent out mass emails addressed to taxpayers of Catoosa, Walker and Dade, the three counties that created the hospital authority.

"This hospital board brings to mind similarities to a baby's diaper -- the evidence may be hidden but you know something doesn't smell right; and both need changing for the same reason!" reads an email Nelson sent in December.

In an interview Wednesday, Nelson said that if the board confirms his nomination, he'll work to fix the finances at Hutcheson, which is more than $60 million in debt. Catoosa and Walker counties have backed $26.5 million of that.

"I'd like to see the hospital survive ... and be there," he said. "But it's got to do so in an economical manner."

Nelson is a Nebraska native who has a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering. He owns Interstate Machine Works on Boynton Drive, a part maker for heavy industry that employs about 30 workers. He made an unsuccessful bid in 2004 for a Catoosa County Commission seat.

Clark, who has served previously as the chairman of the Catoosa County Commission and in the Georgia House of Representatives, brings an extensive medical background to the board. He has a master's degree in public health and worked for 45 years in medical positions with the United States Army, most recently in the Office of the Army Surgeon General.

"I'm going to insist the system be self-supporting," Clark said in a follow-up interview. "We've got to pay our bills. We can't keep coming to the counties to be refinanced.

"I don't know we can work any miracles but we'll do the best we can," he said.

At Tuesday's County Commission meeting, Nelson pointed out that the hospital authority's bylaws call for the county to submit three names for each position, from which the authority selects the board member. It also may reject all three.

Catoosa County Attorney Chad Young said that since the hospital authority is relying on the counties to financially back Hutcheson, it has recently allowed the counties more control.

"If we're financially backing the hospital, we should be able to see who we want to the board," Young said.

He said Catoosa County also is entitled to a fourth member on the board and amendments to the authority's bylaws are currently en route to allow that additional member.

Weldon, an obstetrician and gynecologist, has served since 1991 on the Hospital Authority of Walker, Dade and Catoosa Counties. Weldon couldn't immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Rhudy has attended board meetings for more than a year by speakerphone, because he lives about 340 miles away and works as the full-time administrator of Brooks County Hospital in Quitman, Ga., near the Florida border. Georgia law requires hospital authority board members to live in the counties that they represent.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651. Contact staff writer Rachel Sauls-Wright at rsauls@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6439.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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