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Medical center files for bankruptcy

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Margaret J. Weston Medical Center has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to avoid depleting its financial assets to pay a $500,000 judgment in a civil lawsuit.

On Friday, the estate of Paul D. Weston, whose first wife founded the medical center in 1970, rejected an offer for the center to pay the judgment in monthly increments over a three-year period, said interim CEO Carolyn Emanuel-McClain. Including interest and penalties, the clinic owes the estate more than $800,000.

Dr. Weston sued the clinic in 2004, saying the board of directors breached the two-year, $280,000 contract he signed to serve as medical director in 2002, according to Augusta Chronicle archives. He was fired in July 2003, and at the time his attorney, Donald Gist, said it was because of the center's financial woes -- not through any fault of his own.

Because the estate did not accept the board's offer, a receiver would have been appointed to help the board liquidate its assets, Mrs. Emanuel-McClain said. Board members and their attorney were to appear in court Tuesday morning if the center had not filed for bankruptcy Monday evening.

"We just hadn't had the money," she said. "We didn't have a large amount of excess income, so if we liquidated there would be no services available or they would be curtailed."

The clinic serves primarily low-income patients at its main clinic in Clearwater and satellite locations in Aiken and Jackson, Mrs. Emanuel-McClain said. With the bankruptcy, the center can avoid shutting down the satellite clinics and other adverse effects on medical care, she said.

"It will not have any impact on patients and services," she said. "Our clinical staff is bare bones, so if we'll make any reductions it would be from an administrative standpoint, not clinically."

The center is still obligated to pay Dr. Weston's estate, but a judge will decide the amount the estate is to receive, Mrs. Emanuel-McClain said.

It will be 30 to 60 days before that decision is made.

Reach Stephanie Toone at (803) 648-1395 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.


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