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Few answers from NRMC hearing

I am sure that NRMC CEO Bill Heburn’s “ominous warning,” as it was described in the Saturday, Sept. 7, edition of The Natchez Democrat, to “sell it or close it” within two years, served its intended purpose of scaring most county residents into getting on board the train to sell NRMC as quickly as possible.

If I were on that board of trustees, and my CEO made a public statement like that, when we are involved in negotiations to sell the property, I would be working diligently to have him fired from his position.

At Friday’s public hearing on the proposed sale, I posed the question, “Who are the experts advising us to sell, and could they be more specific than the uncertainty surrounding implementation of the new health care law” as the primary motivation for selling? Mr. Heburn, speaking for the experts, stated, “This year, we have almost a million dollars in unplanned plant problems in keeping the hospital running,” and also that “we spent $875,000 last year getting ourselves out of the 1980s and almost current with our computer system.” It sounds to me like that upgrade was long overdue anyway.

While I personally do not know if selling NRMC is the right thing to do or not, I have not yet jumped on the train to sell NRMC as quickly as possible. First, because I believe we are being rushed onto the train out of fear that if it pulls out without us, we are doomed, our hospital will close. This is simply too important a decision to make hastily, to fit the experts’ train schedule. Mr. Heburn stated that we are about three-fourths of the way through the negotiating process with a potential “stalking horse” bidder. Yet there was no one present at the public hearing who has been involved in any of the negotiations.

Only Mr. Scott Phillips of Health Management Partners, the consultant hired again to lead us through the sales process, has been involved in those negotiations. Mr. Phillips was busy elsewhere that day. I guess it was deemed not critical enough to have Mr. Phillips there, to think of postponing it again. If you recall, Mr. Phillips conducted a completely secret sales process four years ago, until the purported sale collapsed, and he was forced to come clean.

Of course, Walter Brown stated I shouldn’t blame Mr. Phillips for the previous failed sales process, given that the entire economy went into recession, which is true. However, that does not change the fact that statements made by Mr. Phillips prior to the collapse of that sale turned out to be completely false. Board of trustee members, sounding rather foolish, could only say that they thought that the sale had progressed further than it actually had, obviously relying on what Mr. Phillips had reported to them.

But I should not look backward at past mistakes made when we all need to come together now and look forward, according to Mr. Brown. I guess it would be better for everyone to simply remain quiet and let them all be lead down the path to looking foolish again. But this time, there can be a far worse outcome than looking foolish.

A deal is about to be made with a “stalking horse” bidder, and Mr. Phillips is the only person that has been involved in any of those negotiations. The benefit of the “stalking horse” bid process was put forth that you are guaranteed a sale, because the “stalking horse” in effect, sets a minimum bid. I’m not sure if they mentioned that if someone out bids the “stalking horse,” the “stalking horse” bidder is allowed to make a fee off of the additional sales proceeds, basically a commission off of the sale, simply for having been the “stalking horse.” So, if you can become the “stalking horse”, you make money if you lose the bid. Pretty sweet deal if you can become the “stalking horse” at the right price!

So because the “stalking horse” process is in place, if a “stalking horse” is named, the deal won’t just fall through this time around. The “stalking horse” wins the bid if no one else bids. So before anyone signs off on an agreement with a “stalking horse” bidder, our representatives had better make darn sure they are aware of all of the details of the agreement. And it had better contain those wonderful things mentioned in Friday’s hearing. If it doesn’t, simply don’t make the deal. No one will hold that against you. Stepping back and taking a deep breath may be just what this process needs. What we will hold against you is signing on to a bad deal, and saying we were just acting on the advice of our hired consultant. He will have banked his fees, again, and moved on to the next sale, while you all will be here to face the backlash.

 

Chuck Fields is an Adams County resident.

 

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