The men running Hutcheson Medical Center will have to pay for their own lawyers if anybody sues them down the road.
Dr. Darrell Weldon, the chairman of the Hospital Authority of Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties, asked the elected officials in three local governments to give taxpayer money to Hutcheson's board to pay for liability insurance. Walker County Attorney Don Oliver said his side would not be contributing anything. So did Dade County Executive Ted Rumley.
Then, during a special-called meeting Thursday afternoon, the Catoosa County Commission declined the request. After meeting in a closed-door session for about 40 minutes, the commissioners returned to their seats. Chairman Keith Greene asked the other elected officials if they wanted to make a motion to offer the board money. Nobody spoke.
"It wasn't in the best interest of the county to financially support it," Greene said after the meeting.
The hospital's board members used to be covered under a claims-made policy. If someone sued those board members, claiming they mismanaged the hospital, an insurance company would pay for their legal representation and cover the cost of a lost lawsuit up to a certain amount.
But the hospital is transitioning from a public entity to a private company. ApolloMD, a physician's group out of Atlanta, promised in December to buy Hutcheson for $4.2 million. The hospital is still run by the board until some legal procedures play out, but the administrators running the hospital believe ApolloMD will own Hutcheson at some point this year.
That means the Hospital Authority will no longer run Hutcheson. And so on Jan. 1, the board's insurance expired. But the board members are hoping to receive "tail insurance" coverage that extends six years in the future. In other words, if a former doctor sued the board members in 2020 for actions they took last year, an insurance company would still cover those board members.
They were asking for a policy that would cost $150,000 but cover them up to $5 million.
"We just want to have protection," said State Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, who also serves as the board's attorney. "We feel like that's appropriate. The people who serve on the hospital board are all volunteers. They were asked to serve. They did. They gave a lot of their time without any pay or compensation."
Under Georgia law, Catoosa County Attorney Clifton "Skip" Patty said, the board had to get this "tail coverage" within 30 days of losing their regular insurance policy. That puts the deadline at Sunday.
The elected officials in the counties, however, did not feel insurance coverage was a smart way to spend taxpayer money. Rumley did not give a definitive answer when asked by the Times Free Press on Thursday, but he said none of the Dade County commissioners had yet to voice support for the deal.
"I don't see it happening," he said.
If Catoosa County, Dade County and Walker County all pitched in, they would each pay about $50,000. Oliver, Walker County's lawyer, said that type of deal would work. But with Dade County apparently on the fence, he didn't expect Walker County to pitch anything.
"The other counties have refused to do their share," he said.
Greene, meanwhile, said Catoosa County's leaders assumed they would have to pay the full cost on their own. In exchange for the $150,000, the hospital board offered Catoosa County two pieces of property.
The county would have received a house on Barnhardt Circle where Hutcheson's CEOs used to live. They also would have received a narrow strip of land on LaFayette Road at the entrance of Hutcheson, where a sign pointing out the hospital sits.
"We just didn't see the value," Greene said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at email@example.com or at 423-757-6476.