More than 100 Hutcheson employees and supporters packed the classroom and the halls outside the Women’s Center at the Fort Oglethorpe hospital. Many held up signs urging the trustees to approve the deal.
Hutcheson began seeking a partnership with Erlanger in October after years of financial troubles. The hospital has been losing $1 million a month recently and it has defaulted on a $35 million loan. It has lost doctors and patients, maintaining about 20 percent occupancy at the 195-bed hospital. On Monday the hospital laid off 75 employees.
On Sunday, three of the hospital’s four boards agreed to a partnership contract with Erlanger, leaving only the Authority Board to agree.
Ken Rhudy, a Catoosa County trustee who could not officially participate in the meeting Wednesday night because he was in south Georgia, suggested the closed session.
The session started by including several members of all the Hutcheson boards to answer one question, as Rhudy said by phone, “Can we work this out together?”
After awhile the room was thinned down to just the Authority Board and their legal and financial advisors, including attorney Roy Barnes, who was governor of Georgia from January 1999 to January 2003.
After being let back in following the executive session, the crowd heard the news they had been hoping for: pending final approval of Erlanger’s board of trustees and approval of caveats involving the membership structure and selection process of Hutcheson boards, the partnership will commence.
Erlanger president and CEO Jim Brexler, present with several of his executive colleagues, stood up and addressed the room, thanking all involved for their time and commending the process of getting everyone in the same room. “The folks in this room and the patients they serve are really worth getting a decision made.”
The agreement was reached with some considerable caveats that must be approved by the HMC Inc. board and the board of its parent company Hutcheson Health Enterprises (HHE).
The Authority Board passed a two-page resolution that calls for the HHE board to alter its bylaws to accommodate all nine Authority trustees to automatically serve among the13 HHE seats.
The hospital’s physician chief of staff will serve as the 10th member and each of the three county governments will appoint one member to serve a four-year staggered term.
The resolution also similarly calls for the nine trustees to automatically be members of the 13-seat HMC Inc. board, with the four remaining positions appointed by the HHE board, also to four-year staggered terms.
The resolution states numerous reasons behind the board shakeup, including: “during the 16 years since the Authority created HMC/HHE, the failure of the board structure has led to a failure of accountability to the Authority, the state, the counties, the taxpayers, and the many families which sacrificed to create the hospital.”
The matter of Hutcheson’s breaches of the lease agreement that was brought forth at last week’s Authority Board meeting was taken off the table, but the new resolution does reserve the right of the Authority to terminate the lease if the changes to the boards are not made.
Board restructuring and eventual consolidation down to one board, which Erlanger has supported throughout, was an issue at the start of the recent tensions.
But the current board members did pledge that they would step down as directed once an agreement with Erlanger was reached.
Authority Board attorney Don Oliver said that the approval of the Erlanger contract with the board restructuring caveats works for everybody. “We get the partnership that we have all wanted while now being able to slowly but surely solve the other concerns we’ve had.”