By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
Commission Executive Chairman Ted Rumley says that the commission has not held
a special meeting to discuss financial backing for Hutcheson Medical Center, but
that he expects the matter will come up at the body’s regular December meeting
discussed it before,” he said.
According to a
Hutcheson press release, Walker County passed a resolution to back a $2 million
interim line of credit for the hospital, but Walker’s sole commissioner, Bebe
Heiskell, has made the offer contingent on whether at least one of the other
two counties that depend on Hutcheson as their official public hospital – that
is, responsible for providing indigent care – would join Walker in the
guarantee. Those counties are Dade and
Dade would join Walker County in the line-of-credit offer only “if we could
guarantee Dade taxpayers would not be at any risk.”
Dade has taken
a similar stand on matters financial for the past few years as Hutcheson,
struggling under a reported $60 million in debt, has sought to set itself a
course for fiscal healing, first via a partnership with Chattanooga’s Erlanger
Medical Center and latterly with a request-for-proposals (RFP) process aimed at
leasing itself to some other medical institution.
year, Dade rejected as too risky the notion of backing a bond issue to
refinance Hutcheson’s debt, then this summer agreed to support such an issuance
only on the condition of what seemed a sure bet this summer – a new lease
agreement with Erlanger.
negotiations between the two hospitals broke down before the Aug. 9 deadline,
and Hutcheson and Erlanger agreed to dissolve the management arrangement that
had bound them since 2011.
issued its subsequent RFP for a broader range of suitors, Erlanger was among
the institutions that stepped up to respond; but the aforementioned press
release, which was issued on Nov. 25, reported: “Hutcheson board members and
representatives from the counties served by the hospital worked diligently to
negotiate mutually agreeable lease terms with Erlanger, but were unsuccessful
in reaching an agreement.”
Only one health
care institution besides Erlanger responded to the RFP, the release revealed,
going on to announce that Hutcheson was now “exploring financial solutions with
a major lender in efforts to remain independent.”
Dade owns a
percentage of Hutcheson, having paid, with the other two counties, for its
construction in the 1940s.
But since those
days, Interstate 59 has made Chattanooga hospitals more accessible to Dade than
is Hutcheson, which requires an-up-and-down circuit of Lookout Mountain from
Trenton. In earlier hospital-related discussions, Dade commissioners have even
brought up the possibility of asking the other counties to buy out Dade’s
commissioners have also discussed the unknowns of how the Affordable Care Act,
off to a jerky start but due for implementation next year, will affect indigent
care in a border-town situation like Dade’s, and so far the commissioners have
stopped short of any drastic steps.
plays a vital role in the healthcare of citizens in Walker, Dade and Catoosa
counties, and we are pleased that a major lender is working with Hutcheson to
identify the best long-term solution for keeping Hutcheson an independent
entity,” Corky Jewell, chairman of the three-county hospital board of
directors, is quoted in the press release. “We are strengthened by the support
and encouraged about our future.”
The Dade County
Commission meets at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the county Administrative Building.