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NRMC board president feeling positive on stalking horse bidder process

NATCHEZ — Possible stalking horse bidders are consulting with their respective boards of trustees about the potential purchase of Natchez Regional Medical Center.

The Rev. Leroy White, president of NRMC’s board of trustees, said the effort to find a stalking horse bidder is ongoing but it’s also a matter of waiting. White characterized his feelings about the process as “positive.”

“We are just waiting for somebody getting ready to sign on the dotted line,” White said. “(Potential bidders) are meeting with their boards of trustees. We are waiting for them to make their decisions.”

White declined to name the potential bidders, saying who was involved in negotiations would be disclosed once a bidder came forward and finalized an agreement.

Healthcare Management Partners Chief Executive Officer Scott Phillips will be meeting with the Adams County Board of Supervisors the week of Oct. 20, White said.

“We are hoping that he is bringing us some good news,” he said. “We are hoping to have something by then.”

HMP is the consulting firm hired by the county to help market the hospital. HMP Director Clare Moylan said in an email this week the company sent letters asking for expressions of interest to 90 hospitals and hospital systems qualified to participate in the sale process.

Once a stalking horse bidder is found, those systems that have expressed interest in the sale will have an opportunity to access the digital data room currently accessible to stalking horse negotiating parties. The data room contains information about the hospital’s operations and patient base, among other things.

Under the stalking horse agreement, an opening bid is contractually agreed upon between the seller and the bidder. When the hospital goes to auction, if no other bidder comes forward the hospital is automatically sold to the stalking horse.

The stalking horse negotiations were limited by the county supervisors — on the recommendation of the hospital trustees — to non-profit health care systems within a 150 mile radius of NRMC that regularly treat patients from the Miss-Lou.

This approach excludes Health Management Associates, the parent company of Natchez Community Hospital, from the stalking horse process, though HMA is still free to bid when the hospital goes to auction.

The supervisors decided to place the publicly owned hospital on the market earlier this year at the prompting of the hospital’s trustees, who said the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will make operating an independent, rural hospital difficult.

The trustees likewise said the hospital would ultimately have to be part of a larger health care system in order to attract the necessary number of physicians to the area in order to adequately treat its resident population, and only a larger system would have the necessary resources to address the needs of the hospital’s physical plant.

HMP marketed the hospital during an attempt to sell it out of bankruptcy in 2008, but no buyer came forward at that time.

Built in the 1950s and opening in 1960 as Jefferson Davis Memorial Hospital, NRMC has been financially independent of the county since the 1970s, but is backed by a 5-mill standby tax the Mississippi Development Bank required the hospital to get when reissuing NRMC’s revenue bond in 2006.