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Hutcheson returns to profitability, sells hospice unit

For the first time since January 2009, Hutcheson hospital returned to systemwide profitability in September.

That was the good news reported last week during a combined meeting of the hospital’s boards of directors.

Hutcheson Medical Center officials had reported hospital operations had shown profits in July and August, but the overall system had not. September’s figures show the hospital and its three clinics (in Chickamauga, LaFayette and Trenton) combined for positive earnings of $92,104.

Chief Financial Officer Farrell Hayes said gross charges for services provided to patients, which totaled nearly $13.4 million, showed a $531,236 improvement over the same month during the previous year.

The hospital lost about $1.87 million during September 2011, and this year’s budget anticipated a loss of about $231,000 for the month.

Hayes attributed the healthier balance sheet to several factors: a higher daily census of hospitalized patients, more emergency room visits and a greater number of both inpatient and outpatient surgeries.

Compared to last year, the census was 60 percent greater, 7 percent more patients visited the emergency room and surgeries increased by 32 percent.

Also contributing to the improving finances is a steadily improving trend of commercial and Medicare payer mix compared to 2011.

Hutcheson Medical Center, formerly known as Tri-County Hospital, signed a management agreement with Erlanger Health System in May 2011 that included Erlanger providing a $20 million line of credit to keep Hutcheson open for business.

“We are excited to announce the hospital’s first system profit in almost three years,” Hutcheson president and CEO Roger Forgey said in a release accompanying the earnings report. “It demonstrates our employees’ dedication to turning this hospital around and indicates the growing support of physicians and residents in the North Georgia community.”

Following the financial report, Forgey introduced Dr. Deanna Duncan, who recently purchased Hutcheson Hospice, to the board.

In early October the hospital sold the hospice service that first opened in 1986 to Dr. Duncan as part of a move “to focus on our core operations,” according to Forgey. He said the hospital and Dr. Duncan’s practice, which will operate as Hearth Hospice, will act as partners in providing valuable hospice and palliative care services.

Hospice care is intended to provide comfort to those deemed terminally ill and with a life expectancy of less than six months.

Hutcheson Board Chairman Corky Jewell said Hearth Hospice, the only physician-owned hospice in the area, can contribute more than facilitating a patient’s “dignified and comforting” end of life.

Dr. Duncan and a staff that totals 21 will treat those who are late-term terminally ill. But her practice will stress palliative care, specialized medical care intended to improve the quality of life for patients and families over a longer time frame of chronic illness.

The doctor said Hearth Hospice began operations Oct. 1 with 15 patients. That number had increased to 22 patients before the end of the month and she expects to attract more from the North Georgia area in the coming weeks and months, she said.

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