“It’s getting brutal on the hill,” a former Hutcheson employee observed Wednesday. The hospital’s main building sits atop a knoll.
According to hospital officials, the three administrators affected in Tuesday’s actions were the vice president of facilities management, administrator of physician relations, and vice president of marketing and public relations.
Dr. Lori Emerson, chairman of Hutcheson’s board of directors, said the vice president of marketing and public relations has been offered a lower director’s position and “is considering her options.”
Tuesday’s events are part of a restructuring plan and are not unexpected.
On Tuesday David Snyder became Hutcheson’s interim CEO. He replaced Dr. Ralph Nipp, who retired Monday.
Snyder was brought on by Cambio Health Solutions, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based consulting firm that Hutcheson hired this fall to help the hospital recover from two years of operating in the red.
Synder will remain as CEO until a permanent one can be hired, a process expected to take about five months.
Hutcheson Medical Center, a 179-bed-capacity hospital that serves Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties, employs about 1,400 workers.
The last year it saw a profit was 2002. It lost about $3.3 million last year and faces similar losses this year. Officials say they don’t plan to shut the hospital’s doors.
Hutcheson’s story is not unique. Many other hospitals in Georgia and nationwide are facing similar problems.
Reasons for the losses include more uninsured patients who can’t pay their bills, regional competition, and a faltering economy.
In September Hutcheson hired Cambio Health Solutions, a financial turnaround company, for $276,000.
This year the hospital built a $10.5 million campus on Battlefield Parkway in Fort Oglethorpe as part of its strategy for attracting more patients and bringing in more revenue. The hospital borrowed money to build the campus, which includes a cancer center and outpatient surgery facility.
Emerson said the hospital is attempting to “right-size” itself. She said the cuts are in keeping with “how many vice presidents a hospital of our size typically has.”
“We’re doing this to preserve the resource for the community, to make the hospital financially viable,” she said.
A former administrator who asked not to be identified said eventually as many as 50 positions could be eliminated, mostly management-level directors with some frontline staff. The ex-administrator also pointed to the possibility of other drastic changes, such as to the hospital’s ambulance and emergency medical services.
Scott Radeker, Hutcheson emergency medical services director, said the hospital’s EMS faces financial problems, due in part to unpaid ambulance bills.
He said about 30 percent of the hospital’s ambulance calls are for indigent patients who cannot pay their bills.
Radeker said the problem is not exclusive to Hutcheson.
“As far as EMS goes, it is not unusual (for hospitals like Hutcheson) to be close to $400,000 off on collections. We face problems that other hospital EMS services face — ambulance bills competing with doctor’s bills.
“I believe Hutcheson is focused on patient care,” Radeker said.
“There will be a reduction in workforce,” he said, referring to the hospital staff in general. “We’re simply dealing with a hospital that has not been performing well financially. There are issues that have to be immediately addressed. We’d be naive to say we’re going to get through this without a reduction in workforce.”
Radeker said he understands why Cambio was hired.
“Consultants are brought in because they can look objectively and make recommendations,” he said.
Betsy Taylor, vice president of marketing and public relations, one of the three affected in Tuesday’s events, said she would not speculate on what the financial impacts of the cuts might be.
“I would imagine some of the job functions that were performed will still have to be carried out in some capacity,” she said.
Staff writer Nathan Frick contributed to this article.
CLICK HERE: Express your opinion. Send a letter to the editor.
CLICK HERE: Get all the local news and sports with a subscription to the Walker County Messenger