Hospital sale not off the table for Board of Supervisors

Published 12:23am Thursday, May 30, 2013

NATCHEZ While most members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors are hesitant to commit to the idea of selling Natchez Regional Medical Center, at least one supervisor is enthusiastic about the possibility of selling the county-owned hospital.

Supervisor Calvin Butler said Wednesday that with the expansion of the Affordable Health Care Act — colloquially known as Obamacare — and the state of Mississippi’s refusal to expand Medicaid, it’s time for the county to get out of the hospital business.

“I think (selling) would be a great move,” Butler said. “You don’t want to sit there and wind up with all of these problems that will be accruing with not having a Medicaid expansion or Obamacare. We need to get that burden off of the taxpayers and off us and let somebody who is specialized in hospital care to run it.”

Butler — along with the rest of the supervisors — will meet with NRMC’s board of trustees at 6 p.m. today at the hospital. The stated goal of the meeting is discussion of “the sell, merger, lease or change in disposition, if any, of the county hospital.”

The suggestion to meet with the hospital trustees came at Supervisor Mike Lazarus’ suggestion. The supervisors said a potential buyer for the hospital has approached them, and Butler said he knows of at least two potential buyers who have approached the trustees.

“I think they have been discussing it with other people, and we have been approached, and now is the time to sit down — we can’t keep secrets,” Lazarus said. “The trustees can’t sell the hospital without the supervisors, so we need to communicate.”

To sell the hospital, by law, the county will have to have a feasibility study done to determine if the sale of the hospital is in the best interest of Adams County’s residents. Once the study is completed, public hearings will follow.

Though the hospital trustees have some say in whether or not a lease can be effected, the final terms of any sale are left to the supervisors.

But Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said he was just going to the meeting to listen to what the trustees have to say.

“I have said it before, and I will say it again, I don’t like the idea of us micromanaging that board,” Grennell said. “That board is an intelligent board, and they are capable and competent.

“If they have a recommendation, I will go with their recommendation. I know they have been working on something — I don’t know exactly what it is — but they have given me an indication they have been working on something.”

Supervisors David Carter and Angela Hutchins likewise said they wanted to hear what the trustees have to say before forming a full opinion about whether or not the hospital should be sold.

“We are going to meet with them and look at all of the options and get the hospital board’s opinions as well,” Carter said. “Honestly, it is probably something we should have done more often than now.”

Hutchins said she is interested in hearing what is best for the hospital but also what is best for her Adams County constituency.

“Will (potential buyers) still take care of those who do not have any health care (insurance)?” Hutchins said. “I don’t want to see them turned away — that is my biggest concern if they are going to sell.”

Board attorney Scott Slover said the meeting could legally qualify for executive session, meaning that the public would not be allowed to attend, but that was ultimately a decision left up to the supervisors. The hospital trustees are not subject to open meetings laws.

“I think the meeting would qualify for executive session since it is to sell the property, and whenever you are selling property you want to be able to talk openly about the pros and cons of your property, so it may put us at a disadvantage (if the meeting was open),” Slover said.

“If a sale moves forward, there will be public hearings — the public does have a right to be involved in this — but this meeting is more about the boards talking and seeing if they want to implement the process.”

For his part, Butler said he wants the meeting to be open to the public.

“If you are going to have a public hearing, you don’t want the people coming in blind, not knowing anything,” he said. “We are not trying to do anything underhanded.”

NRMC opened in 1960 as Jefferson Davis Memorial Hospital. It was built using federal and state funds, with an $800,000 local contribution toward its $2.4 million construction.

The hospital has been financially independent from the county since 1974 but remains backed by a 5-mill standby tax that the Mississippi Development Bank required for the hospital to reissue its revenue bond in 2006.