Transparency necessary in hospital sale

Published 12:07am Sunday, August 4, 2013

Illusionists make their fortunes making you see one thing, while something else is actually happening.

When the sleight-of-hand moves are done at a magic show or some other theatrical performance, such deception is expected and even anticipated.

But the same trick performed in an effort to simply elude questions quickly raises one’s ire.

Perhaps one of the biggest deceptions going at the moment involves one of the largest, most prominent public buildings in our area — Natchez Regional Medical Center.

A handful of “experts” who are working on getting the hospital sold want Adams County residents to watch their right hand as it twirls in the air, while their left hand is carefully working to slide the hospital out from under the public’s ownership.

Selling the hospital may not be a bad thing. It could, in fact, be a very good thing for the community, as could potentially merging both Natchez hospitals into one much larger, much more modern facility.

But the question isn’t whether or not to sell the hospital, the question is: Who is making the decisions and how involved are members of the public?

In recent weeks, some curious things have been happening regarding the potential sale of the hospital.

First, county supervisors were encouraged — presumably by NRMC attorney Walter Brown who seems to control the hospital’s board of trustees — to re-hire the consultants who failed to find a buyer for the hospital when it was last put on the market back in 2008.

Not only did Health Management Partners not find a buyer in 2008, many believe the firm misled county leaders and the public by convincing them that qualified buyers were nearly on the hook. The hospital and a would-be buyer were practically standing at the wedding altar, most people thought.

As it turned out, the two hadn’t even been on a first date.

Curiously, HMP was hired days before the state-required feasibility study was completed.

Apparently, the county supervisors — or maybe Brown — are mind readers since they all knew the study was going to say, “Sell.”

The feasibility study is required by law to determine the hospital’s current and future needs, its competitive strengths and ultimately provide a recommendation of whether it’s in the best interest of the county to sell, lease or hold the facility.

It’s a formality, based on the moves to date, but it’s a formality cloaked in secrecy.

Requests to see a physical copy of the feasibility study were immediately denied.

Bafflingly, even members of the board of supervisors were not allowed to keep a copy of the survey — the survey they commissioned.

The report, Brown said, contained proprietary information that, if released, could harm the sales process.

When someone sells a home, you’re bound by law to disclose any problems with the house as part of the sales process. In the case of a hospital sale, wouldn’t the same be true?

Only in this case, it’s not the buyers, but the sellers that need to be protected. They’re operating in the dark, asked to sell what is perhaps a $20-million facility, “because it’s in your best interest to do so. Trust us.”

It makes you think: Is all of this just a big game? Everything is good as long as we all “keep our eye on the ball” — the ball the sleight-of-hand experts want us to see, while ignoring everything else.

Providing transparency to this process is long overdue. Taxpayers own the hospital and deserve to know what is being done on their behalf — and why.

 

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