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Hospital negotiations with potential buyer ‘ongoing’

NATCHEZ Natchez Regional Medical Center’s attorney said negotiations with a potential buyer are ongoing.

The potential buyer sent a team to inspect the hospital last week, and Healthcare Management Partners Chief Executive Officer Scott Phillips — a consultant hired to help sell the facility — said the company’s top management was reviewing the team’s assessment before deciding to move forward.

“Everything is going, at this point, positively,” said Walter Brown, NRMC’s attorney. “We hope we can receive some sort of proposal within the next 10 days.”

As the hospital waits for word from the buyer, the bill that would allow the hospital to file for bankruptcy was referred to the Senate’s local and private legislation committee Wednesday for vetting.

House Bill 1449 passed the state House with 119 votes in favor and three abstentions Feb. 20. The short measure declares the legislature gives NRMC permission to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

“I met with Sen. Kelvin Butler, who is on the committee, and he assured me he was on top of it and that he hoped in the next few days they would have it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote,” Walter Brown said.

Butler, D-Magnolia, represents a portion of Adams County as the senator for District 38, and sponsored an identical bankruptcy bill in the Senate.

Once the bill passes the Senate, the governor will have five days to sign it, and Brown said he anticipates that will happen by the week of March 10.

“Hopefully, by the week of March 17, we will be in a position to file (bankruptcy),” he said.

Adams County Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said his board — which is ultimately responsible for the sale of the county-owned hospital — had requested more frequent updates from the hospital’s trustees, and those meetings are being coordinated.

“There has been an effort on the hospital board’s side to arrange that and keep us updated,” he said.

NRMC opened in 1960 as Jefferson Davis Memorial Hospital. Its $2.4 million construction was underwritten by an $800,000 local contribution and state and federal funds.

It has been financially independent since 1974 and does not receive tax support, but is backed by a 5-mill standby tax that the Mississippi Development Bank required the hospital to get in 2006 when it asked for the MDB to reissue its revenue bond.

The hospital filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and exited it later that year. The current bankruptcy action became necessary to keep the hospital’s doors open, hospital administrators said earlier this month, when NRMC’s financial liabilities exceeded its revenues by $3 million.

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