In the first of three public hearings in a community effort to "Save Hutcheson Hospital," CEO Farrell Hayes said, "We are looking at all possible avenues to stop this. It's in the hands of the Lord...what we need is your prayer."
Hutcheson Hospital is currently facing foreclosure by the Erlanger Health System due to non payment of a $20 million loan.
During the meeting, many members of the crowd spoke about the positive effects Hutcheson has had on their lives.
Stephanie Butcher, an employee at the hospital, said the proximity of Hutcheson likely saved her daughter's life. While playing outside, the young girl was bitten by an insect and developed a severe allergic reaction.During the short drive from her home to Hutcheson, Ms. Butcher's daughter started to go into anaphylactic shock. Arriving at the hospital, she was immediately rushed in for care.
Ms. Butcher said, "I think the community needs to realize that minutes matter." She said if she had been forced to drive to Chattanooga, it might have been too late for her daughter.
She added, "Seeing a familiar face that you know truly cares about you makes all the difference in the world."
Another Catoosa County resident shared a similar story. He said he suffered a massive heart attack and would not have been able to survive a long ambulance ride to another hospital.
CEO Hayes said, "Even if you don't stay there, you're a lot better off getting stabilized in our Hutcheson ER than you are in the back of an ambulance."
If the hospital is closed, the nearest emergency center for many North Georgia residents will be over 30 minutes away, it was stated. The approximately 87,000 patients the hospital treats each year will have to travel a much greater distance.
Another woman from the community told the board that they would need a solid plan if they wanted to save the hospital. She said, "You have to come up with something besides saying you have great people."
The Hutcheson Board Chairman said that much of the hospital's financial woes stemmed from mismanaged administrations in the past. At one point, he said there were five different boards operating the hospital and about 50 people making decisions.
He said, "We could've closed a year ago without the support of the community. I guarantee you we are working forward toward the continuing survival of this hospital."
“Hutcheson Medical Center’s vitality is irrevocably linked with the vitality of the surrounding North Georgia community,” said Mr. Hayes. “If Hutcheson is shut down, the health of thousands of North Georgian citizens, as well as the health of our local economy, will be in jeopardy. A community cannot be separated from its hospital without also suffering a loss of life.”
With the nearest emergency department located up to 30 minutes away, Mr. Hayes said that 35,000 patients treated by Hutcheson’s ED each year may be endangered by the additional commute to a Chattanooga area hospital in health situations when minutes matter. He also cited "the more than $33 million of free medical care Hutcheson provides each year to patients without insurance who will lose a reliable healthcare provider with Hutcheson’s closing."
Mr. Hayes said the boarding up of Hutcheson’s doors will result in the closure of the hospital’s multiple outpatient clinics, which currently serve more than 41,000 patients each year. Further losses will include Hutcheson’s Fuller Cancer Center, which received 5,000 patient visits in the past year alone for chemo and radiation treatments, as well as its Parkside nursing home, which currently houses more than 100 elderly patients, he said.
“Hutcheson is more than a hospital for our 100 plus Parkside residents - it is their home,” said Mr. Hayes. “If Hutcheson were to close, there are currently not enough beds available in the Chattanooga area to house everyone at Parkside. Residents will be forced to move to out-of-town facilities, which will place a tremendous burden on both the residents and their families.”
Hutcheson Medical Center will host two additional public hearings within the next two weeks. The next hearing will be held this Thursday, Nov. 13, from 7 until 8 p.m. at the Walker County Civic Center Auditorium, followed by the final public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 18, from 7 until 8 p.m. at the Dade County Administrative Building.
Beyond attending the public hearings, Save Hutcheson supporters also encourage North Georgia residents to sign the Save Hutcheson petition available online or on-site at Hutcheson Medical Center. Copies of the petition will also be circulated at each of the upcoming hearings.