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Paperwork leaves NRMC questions

Bankruptcy court documents filed last week offer little insight into the real cause of Natchez Regional’s horrible financial state.

After reading through more than 100 pages of documents filed as part of Natchez Regional Medical Center’s bankruptcy application, more questions than answers exist.

Click here for pdf of bankruptcy documents

Hospital board attorney Walter Brown, who seems to provide more leadership directives than merely legal advice, had led county supervisors and others to believe the bankruptcy filing would contain more than adequate information about the hospital’s financial status.

Brown has for weeks told county supervisors the hospital’s financial staff was far too busy preparing the bankruptcy documents to fulfill supervisors’ requests for detailed financial records.

Clearly, he was simply stalling.

The fact is the bankruptcy filing contains aggregated operational financial information and a list of the hospital’s debts. While some of that is interesting, it doesn’t offer insight into when the financial woes started, exactly why they started, who knew of the situation and how they reacted.

Still, some clues can be found in the pile of paperwork, but other portions and the way words and sentences are structured seem just flat out disingenuous.

A motion filed as part of the hospital’s bankruptcy filing states the first reason for the bankruptcy was “costly, ill-timed and poorly integrated acquisition of physician practices and new clinical technologies.”

In layman’s terms, the second part of that sentence means the hospital purchased equipment — in this case a daVinci surgical robot system and a Dillon scanner — for which they didn’t have enough patients to justify. Like hundreds of thousands of Americans who bought houses they couldn’t afford, Natchez Regional bought more equipment than it could afford.

The second part of the bankruptcy excuse meant the hospital hired doctors — and perhaps paid their support staffs, too — but either couldn’t help them become profitable or just didn’t demand accountability for the number of patients seen, etc. Who knows the cause, but it was clearly a cash drain.

The very next sentence points to Quorum management, presumably referring to the hospital’s former management company Quorum Health Resources, citing the company “expended millions of dollars to recruit, relocate and subsidize physician practices.”

Late in the motion, NRMC suggests they were addressing the problem by terminating four provider agreements — cardiology, vascular surgery, neurology and family practice.

If the “cardiology” agreement references cardiologist Dr. Brad LeMay, the document is misleading. LeMay came to Natchez in 2010, and left, begrudgingly in May 2013. He came to Natchez more than a year after Quorum was ousted.

Without more information, it’s difficult to know the document is, in fact, referring to LeMay’s contract or not. Even if it’s not, however, for the hospital to blame Quorum for the bankruptcy seems completely off base.

If anyone is to blame for the recent financial woes, it would be former CEO Bill Heburn. In corporations and in hospitals, the buck stops at the top. The three people who seemed to know, or should have known, the depth of the problem included Heburn — who left in October — CFO Charles Mock and board attorney Brown.

Since none of them are talking, the hospital’s owners are left to sift through court paperwork and ask: How could this have happened when professionals were supposed to be watching?

 

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

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