Hutcheson Medical Center has more than $60 million in debt that it hasn't figured out how to repay — but that hasn't stopped the publicly owned Fort Oglethorpe-based hospital from growing.
Hutcheson got $421,000 worth of new gastroenterology scoping equipment donated by the Hutcheson Health Foundation, the hospital's fundraising arm. The equipment will go live in early April at Hutcheson on the Parkway, the hospital's new campus on Battlefield Parkway near Interstate 75.
Hutcheson also has gotten gastroenterologist Dr. Don Mackler to move the office that he's had for 36 years at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga to Hutcheson's main campus near Chickamauga Battlefield.
Mackler, who drives a Porsche with the personalized license plate "Gut Doc," said he was the first gastroenterologist to set up shop at Memorial, and he recruited many of the area's gastroenterologists over the years.
He wants to do what he can to support Hutcheson, where he's seen patients since the 1970s.
"It deserves it," Mackler said, calling Hutcheson a true community hospital. "We're the only place that takes Georgia Medicaid. We have a large amount of working poor."
Mackler said about 80 percent of his patients are from North Georgia. When he sees more patients at Hutcheson, it will mean more business for the hospital, he said. For example, pathologists will examine biopsies, and surgeons will remove colon polyps.
"If I'm seeing more patients, there's more biopsies read by pathology, so they can be paid," Mackler said, adding, "I'm never going to do any unnecessary procedures."
Easy parking at Hutcheson on the Parkway makes it an ideal place to get a colonoscopy, spokeswoman Stacey Kaufmann said.
"It's very convenient for patients who are prepped for colonoscopies," she said.
Hutcheson also plans to expand its footprint in LaFayette, Ga. It's in the process of hiring a family practice doctor there. Hutcheson now operates LaFayette Physicians Family Care, a clinic that's open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
"It's not uncommon for us to see 50 patients on a Saturday," Kaufmann said. "We have a large patient base."
The new services at Hutcheson were outlined in eight resolutions the hospital's board approved at its Feb. 26 meeting. The resolutions are part of a strategic plan crafted in closed session that only becomes public as it is approved.
Hutcheson has no choice but to grow, Kaufmann said. "The current administration is focused on growing the hospital. Those [hospital board members] that are dealing with the financial side -- that's their focus."
Erlanger Health System has filed suit against Hutcheson in federal court in Rome, Ga., for $20.5 million Erlanger hospital loaned Hutcheson when the two hospitals entered a management agreement in 2011. The agreement ended last year after a leasing arrangement between the two hospitals fell apart.
Hutcheson also owes millions to Regions Bank and to vendors.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@times freepress.com or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education 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.