The board on Wednesday night, Feb. 27, approved the monthly financial statement, a utilization management plan required by Medicare, and a new contract for the chief of pulmonology.
But behind the scenes there are changes taking shape to restructure the makeup of the hospital authority board.
A joint resolution between Walker and Catoosa counties backing a bond anticipation note for $25 million was passed earlier this month. The resolution outlined a new structure for the board based on population.
Both Walker and Catoosa counties. prepared to back the hospital. have agreed on nine members on the hospital authority — four for Walker, four for Catoosa and one for Dade.
The change would increase Catoosa’s representation by one and equally lower Dade’s.
But commissioners in Dade County aren’t on board for loosing a member, nor for continuing to back a hospital most of their citizens are not using. Without complete approval from all three counties, the issue must be settled with the state legislature.
A public notice to introduce local legislation was given at the end of February. After five legislative days a bill can be drafted by one of the state legislators and voted on, according to Corky Jewell, board chairman from Walker County. But nobody knows what the outcome of the bill could be after that. The bill will most likely start in the House since it has to do with finances, said interim director of the Senate press office Jennifer Yarber.
One of the four local representatives in the Georgia legislature could introduce the bill in a way that changes the makeup of the board entirely. In fact, a lot of bills going through the legislative process do not end up the way they started, according to Yarber. Any increase of hospital authority board members above nine would ultimately change the make-up of the governing board of 13 members. Currently the nine members of the hospital authority board are accompanied by one representative from each county and Hutcheson’s medical chief of staff to make up the board of directors for Hutcheson Medical Center Inc.
“Erlanger-Hutcheson Hospital is an incredibly significant asset, as it provides medical care in the most critical of moments to the residents of Dade, Catoosa and Walker counties,” said Sen. Jeff Mullis in a statement Thursday, Feb. 28. “We need to do all we can to make sure its infrastructure is strong and properly funded. That said, we have now been put in a tough situation, and it will be very important to select the outcome that will enable the facility to provide the highest level of medical care for years to come.”
Meanwhile, the $25 million bond anticipation note pledged by Walker and Catoosa counties is contingent on resolving the number of members on the hospital authority board, as well as other factors.
“The lender is ready to do the deal today but the counties are saying they are not going to do the deal until the representatives on the authority board are decided,” said Catoosa County commission attorney Chad Young. “Before the county backs this bond and puts the taxpayers at risk, we need assurance this bond will be paid back first and any money left over will go to pay back debts to regions and Erlanger,”
The anticipation note is short-term, meaning it can be drawn from for one year. The hospital has specified its intent to use the $25 million note to refinance debt at a one-percent interest rate and to make equipment upgrades.
“We are actively working toward getting the bond anticipation note with the lender,” Jewell said. “We can continue to operate under these circumstances (without knowing the future make-up of the hospital authority board). We are not going to stall business out waiting on this one way or the other. The hospital is too important.”