The current leaders of the three counties that originally formed the hospital nearly 60 years ago sat down with the top Erlanger official Thursday night to ratify the intergovernmental agreement that brings the large Chattanooga hospital into northwest Georgia to take over management of Hutcheson.
Catoosa County commission chairman Keith Greene, Dade County commission chairman Ted Rumley, and Walker County commissioner Bebe Heiskell joined Erlanger president and CEO Jim Brexler to sign the copies necessary to make the long-sought partnership official.
“These documents will be placed in a (locked) file and held in escrow until Monday,” said HMC Inc. attorney Ward Nelson, explaining that the same copies are yet to be signed by the leaders of the four Hutcheson operating boards at a signing ceremony April 25.
“The contractual business is complete, but now starts the real business,” said Brexler.
He said the next step is for the Erlanger administration to join with Hutcheson interim CEO Debbie Reeves and her team to plan specifics for the transition of management and services at the Fort Oglethorpe hospital.
Hutcheson has been operating in the red for several years and recently reported losses of $1 million a month.
Though officials have not specifically said so, the common understanding is that there will be a need for further job cuts at Hutcheson, which eliminated positions and reduced hours of 75 employees April 4.
Brexler pledged that all employees will be treated with dignity and respect during the difficult times ahead.
“Our goal is to minimize job losses by maximizing business growth,” Brexler said, adding that the key to that goal is attracting more doctors and thereby more patients.
Though Brexler said the new partnership “is not a magic bullet” he did express optimism for recruiting more physicians to northwest Georgia, even some who left Hutcheson in recent years.
“In all our interviews with doctors about coming to Hutcheson, not once was quality of care an issue,” he said. “If that’s the case then we should be able to find a way to bring them back.”