Bankruptcy not a cure all for NRMC

Published 12:02am Sunday, March 9, 2014

The secrecy surrounding the cash incinerator known as Natchez Regional Medical Center may not end anytime soon. Many residents concerned over the future of the hospital and the utter lack of public information released on its finances were hopeful the eminent bankruptcy filing would provide insight.

The problem is that as a Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the federal court is somewhat limited in how much control it can take in the case. In a normal, private sector, corporate bankruptcy, a court trustee has the power to oversee the reorganization of the business.

In Chapter 9, however, much of the control over the entity is left up to the existing administrators. That’s because Chapter 9 usually deals with municipalities and political subdivisions for which the federal government cannot legally “take over” for lack of a better, more proper legal term.

The trustee in NRMC’s bankruptcy will not likely monitor the financial operations of the hospital while it’s in bankruptcy and will not challenge or question the fees the hospital pays to professionals such as attorneys.

The only hope, perhaps, may be if Adams County Board of Supervisors — whose position of authority has been completely disrespected by NRMC’s board of trustees and hospital administrators — petition the bankruptcy court for help.

Supervisors should explain to the bankruptcy court just how tied their hands have been in the process. Supervisors should explain how they’ve sought up-to-date financial records on the hospital and have been ignored.

They should explain the hospital’s biggest two problems are secrecy and complacency among its leadership.

The same people — sans a few board members — are really leading the hospital now as they were a few years ago, including the current CFO and hospital board attorney.

Perhaps the court can be convinced that for the hospital to be bankrupt twice in five years, the management must be the problem. All are nice people, but clearly are incapable of righting the ship. What local residents have learned in the last few weeks is that, apparently, the hospital was dangerously close to having its electricity cut due to non-payment.

Hospital employees — most of whom locals agree provide excellent care and are unfortunately stuck in the middle of this mess — are left wondering if and when health care insurance claims will be paid. In addition, many remain uncertain about their retirement funds.

Unfortunately, the bankruptcy will not likely give the public a detailed look into the hospital’s finances, but will simply show just how much debt the hospital owes.

Many rumors abound at the moment, one being a group of local investors — including some physicians — plan to bid on the hospital with the bankruptcy being a way to clear the air on the hospital’s debt.

Only a handful of people will actually benefit from the bankruptcy process. In 2009, bankruptcy documents indicate a pile of attorneys likely did.

Court records show the hourly rates for those attorneys ranged from $160 to $350 per hour. NRMC board attorney Walter Brown’s rate was set at $230 per hour while Mississippi’s premier bankruptcy attorney Eileen Shaffer’s rate was set to $200 per hour.

Other public hospitals — while perhaps not flourishing — are surviving just fine so the question remains: Why is Natchez Regional still drowning?

Perhaps it’s because we have the same people watching the money, year after year.

 

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