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Is hospital hiding behind settlement?

So after a week of drama, intrigue and perhaps a little posturing, a seemingly much-loved cardiologist is leaving Natchez’s medical community.

The contract dispute between Natchez Regional Medical Center, Dr. Brad LeMay and Jackson Heart Clinic became public a little more than a week ago.

In short, the hospital essentially said its involvement with LeMay and Jackson Heart wasn’t profitable enough for the hospital and that LeMay sought more time off than the hospital was willing to fund.

LeMay said late last week that he had accepted a position in Arkansas, thus ending the back-and-forth between LeMay, Natchez Regional and LeMay’s patients.

The LeMay spat underscores an ongoing issue facing the community — should the public hospital continue to be a public hospital and, if so, exactly how much involvement should the public have in its operations?

Divergent interests come into play in seeking the answers.

Members of the public, as the rightful owners of the hospital, feel they should be able to have a say in matters, such as the LeMay decision.

Hospital leaders say, essentially, that’s why you have us. Trust us to do our jobs; we have your best interests at heart.

But when issues like LeMay come up, it’s easy for the public to lose faith that hospital administrators and the public share the same goals.

The public learned recently that between Natchez Regional Medical Center and the Natchez Medical Foundation, the two entities showed an approximate $1 million loss in the last fiscal year.

That comes on the heels of a purported multi-million dollar settlement against the hospital’s former management company, Quorum Health Resources.

NRMC sued Quorum for mismanagement after the company allegedly cooked the financial books to falsely show a profit in 2007. The hospital said an outside audit showed the year actually experienced a financial loss of $1.9 million.

At the time, hospital administrators claimed the financial loss — along with the cover up of it — was proof that Quorum didn’t know what they were doing.

Yet here we are, five years later, and members of the public want to know why the hospital is still losing money.

Have things actually improved, or is the hospital still floundering, perhaps now simply living off the spoils of its newfound settlement cash?

The LeMay issue brought forth lots of questions including:

How can a publicly owned hospital continue to avoid telling the public how much money it gained in the Quorum settlement?

Does CEO Bill Heburn have an interest — a bonus opportunity in his contract — for recruiting physicians? If he does, would Heburn earn money by finding LeMay’s replacement?

Heburn has allegedly told the board he plans to step down soon and return to his permanent home in Florida. His critics question whether he can truly represent the public owners of the hospital when his home and heart are hundreds of miles away.

All of those are questions the hospital’s board of trustees certainly has heard. Yet, at least publicly, no answers have been provided.

The public needs transparency.

Hospital leadership needs to be fully answerable to the public. Hiding under the cloak of a wide interpretation of exemptions allowed under the Mississippi Open Records law helps no one.

 

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

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