Hospital denies talk of lease

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 16, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; The letter then-supervisors President Darryl Grennell sent to Natchez Regional Chief Executive Officer Jack Houghton was clear.

&uot;This letter comes in respect to a rumor that Natchez Regional Medical Center [is] to be sold to Natchez Community Hospital,&uot; Grennell wrote, adding in bold letters, &uot;There is no validity to this rumor.&uot;

But that letter was written more than four months ago.

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Now, rumors are again surfacing that Health Management Associates, which owns Natchez Community Hospital, is seeking to buy &045; or lease &045; NRMC.

And Regional employees have reserved a spot on the Adams County Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting agenda to ask for themselves whether there is any truth to such talk.

Is the Board of Supervisors seeking to lease or sell NRMC?

&uot;That is absolutely not true,&uot; said supervisors President Lynwood Easterling, who acknowledged that he also has heard the rumors.

Even with the financial crunch the county faces with International Paper’s impending closure, &uot;we’re considering no such thing,&uot; Easterling said.

Talk of one of Natchez’s two hospitals buying the other is nothing new. In fact, the Board of Supervisors had the opportunity several years ago to buy Community.

Meanwhile, Naples, Fla.-based HMA continues to buy hospitals throughout the East and South &045; six facilities in 18 months, to be exact, ranging from more than 60 to almost 200 beds. Natchez Regional has just more than 200 beds.

Community CEO Allen Tyra referred questions to Gary Bell, who is in charge of development and acquisition for HMA &045; and who also said there’s no truth to the rumors.

Bell did visit with county supervisors in executive session on Jan. 27, and Regional officials were present.

But that, he said, was only to discuss the effects that the opening of another hospital across the Mississippi River could have on Natchez’s existing facilities.

&uot;But we’re not talking about buying or leasing Regional,&uot; Bell said.

Houghton would not comment earlier this week.

But Bob Flurry, chairman of Regional’s Board of Trustees, said no one has approached that board &045; or, as far as he knows, the Board of Supervisors &045; about a possible sale or lease.

&uot;And it would be an unusual way of doing things if they’re not working through the supervisors or the Board of Trustees,&uot; Flurry said.

For his part, Flurry is against a sale or lease. In the case of a sale, costs &045; read, jobs &045; would have to be cut, he noted.

&uot;If you’re talking cutting 25 percent of jobs, that’s 100 jobs that would no longer be here,&uot; Flurry said. &uot;Besides, I believe a community like this needs a public hospital.

&uot;If anything, I’d like to buy them,&uot; Flurry said, referring to Community.

The Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in their meeting room on State Street.