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Hospital sale talk best done in public

Months after the virtual “for sale” sign went up outside Natchez Regional Medical Center, the process seems to be gaining little traction.

Last week, the attorney for the county-owned hospital’s board of trustees said negotiations with would-be buyers continue and hinted a deal may be hammered out by year’s end.

The hospital’s board may be experiencing mission creep — the phenomenon that occurs when a task takes longer than expected. The original intent of the mission can become clouded or even lost in the process.

Initially, the sale of the hospital was expected to be a boon for taxpayers.

Improved market conditions, we were told, would yield a number of buyers who would pay up for the hospital, provide relief for the county’s debt obligations, construct a new hospital facility, free up a boatload of cash and get the county out of the hospital business once and for all. It was a win for all sides.

But with each new update about the sales process, the deadline by which something definite will be released seems to push out later and later. Only a select handful of people seem to know who the potential buyers may be.

Initially, the sales negotiations were with only not-for-profit hospital groups.

Last week, the hospital’s attorney said in addition to three alleged not-for-profit suitors, the hospital is also talking with one for-profit party.

The last-minute addition of a for-profit buyer — which logically would almost have to be Health Management Associates, the owners of Natchez Community Hospital — is certainly interesting.

That may not be a bad thing, provided HMA can deliver on all of the other promises sold to taxpayers as reasons for why selling the facility was critical.

As the potential sales process continues, we certainly hope any details are made public before it’s too late for the public to have any input.