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$627,588 in employee benefits owed to NRMC

NATCHEZ — Natchez Regional Medical Center’s largest unsecured claim in its bankruptcy filing is directly tied to employee benefits.

In the hospital’s bankruptcy filing, the list of the 20 largest unsecured claims is topped by a $627,588.16 amount owed to NRMC/Benefit Management Systems Inc.

Hospital board attorney Walter Brown said BMS is a third-party administrator for NRMC’s self-insured employee benefits employee.

“In this system, you might go to the hospital and (BMS) pays the claim and sends a bill to (your employer), who pays it out of a fund appropriated to pay third party claims,” Brown said.

“In this instance, that hasn’t been funded to the extent it should have been because of the circumstances.”

Having the unpaid claim with BMS could eventually  leave hospital employees open to being billed directly for medical services they have sought, Brown said.

“In my experience, that is not what happens, they wait until the hospital pays it,” he said.

“Most of these claims are with hospitals and doctors offices that know they are dealing with another hospital that is on a self-funded plan that will have priorities, so I think they would be fairly confident they would get paid.”

Brown said under the proposed sale plan for NRMC, all of those bills should be paid.

The county board of supervisors entered into a letter of intent last week with a potential buyer for the hospital. Though the process is still shrouded by confidentiality agreements, sources close to the sale process said Community Health Systems — the parent company of Natchez Community Hospital — will offer $10 million for the hospital and an additional $8 million in “prepaid property tax” at the close of the deal.

Adams County Supervisor Calvin Butler said the board of supervisors would be keeping an eye on the bankruptcy process as it moves forward to ensure employees get the benefits owed them.

“They work hard, and I am sure they have been frustrated through this whole bankruptcy,” Butler said.

“We want to make sure all the vendors are paid, but especially the employees.”

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said he did not know if the county would be required to pick up the cost of employee benefits if the matter could not be settled in bankruptcy.

“There should be enough money to pay everything off at the end of the day when we sell the hospital,” he said. “That includes the bonds and the creditors.”

Hospital trustee Lee Martin declined to comment Thursday. Other trustees could not be reached or did not return messages.

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 get in 2006 when it asked for the MDB to reissue its revenue bond.

The county supervisors, who have to approve any action to sell the facility, appoint the hospital’s volunteer trustees. The board of trustees includes the Rev. Leroy White, John Serafin, Dr. Linda Godley, Bill Ernst, Lionel Stepter, Martin and Dr. Jennifer Russ.