Coleman takes lead of hospital board

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Nearly 20 years after his graduation from high school in Natchez, the opportunity finally came for James Coleman to return to his hometown.

He brought with him years of business experience in one of the country’s largest accounting firms as well as in the giant Monsanto company in St. Louis and in a Mississippi health-care facility.

Now vice president for human resources at Mississippi River Corp., Coleman had made a promise that if the right opportunity to return to Natchez came, he not only would take it but would come with a pledge to make a difference as a volunteer.

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&uot;In 1990, I had the opportunity to come to MRC, and I have been here ever since,&uot; Coleman said. &uot;For a long time, I wanted to come back home. I promised the good Lord that if I came back, I would serve the community. And I have served.&uot;

The list is impressive. He has been on the boards of the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau, the United Way and the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture. He continues to serve on the Civil Service Board and the Natchez-Adams School Board. And he now chairs the board at Natchez Regional Medical Center.

&uot;I have been chairman since February,&uot; he said. &uot;This is a very cohesive board. Our focus is on the mission of providing the best quality health care possible. Our vision is someday to be a one-hospital community and to be able to provide comprehensive health care.&uot;

The board wants to eliminate the 90-mile journeys some patients make now to get services they feel they cannot get in Natchez.

Having a board that works well together and a CEO that he can communicate with easily makes his chairmanship a pleasure, Coleman said. &uot;I communicate with Jack Houghton almost daily,&uot; he said of the Natchez Regional CEO. &uot;He talks to me about the needs we have in recruitment, tort reform issues and staying afloat as Medicare and Medicaid funds dwindle.&uot;

Recruiting and retaining doctors has been the medical center’s biggest challenge in recent years, Coleman said. Reforming the state’s tort laws has begun but has not gone far enough.

&uot;Without the approval of some caps on awards, we’ll not be able to get and keep physicians.&uot;

His background in business has been helpful to him as a medical center board member and now as chairman.

&uot;Industry has to utilize all its manpower efficiently. Lean and mean is the way of the future,&uot; he said. &uot;We have people cross-trained to do two or three jobs. The hospital has to do the same thing.&uot;

The six members of the Natchez Regional board bring different and important strengths to the table, Coleman said. &uot;We have an investments person, a local minister, two businessmen from different sides of town and a school teacher &045;&045; different backgrounds but all contributing in some way. It’s our responsibility to have our hands on the pulse of the community, to determine the needs and see what we need to offer here in Natchez.&uot;

A big issue with the board now is the new doctors building that will replace the old Medical Arts Building adjacent to the south side of the medical center.

&uot;It’s going to be a tremendous help to have that new building, with the walkway going directly from the building to the hospital.&uot;

Recruiting efforts include bringing doctors in several specialties, including gastroenterology, family medicine, orthopedics and cardiology.

Coleman looks upon his late father as his most important mentor. &uot;He instilled in us to get along with everyone. I always have accepted everyone, and I think that has gotten me where I am today.&uot;

Coleman was 14 when his father died. His high school coach, George Smith, stepped up to help. &uot;He gave me my first real job, working at school. He taught me a lot about morals and values.&uot;

He relishes time with his family &045;&045; wife, children and grandchildren &045;&045; and calls himself a homebody. When asked what he thought his friends would say about him, Coleman said, &uot;I hope they would see me as a fair, easy-going person, one they can talk to without confrontation &045;&045; someone they see as a true friend.&uot;

The golden rule has been a way of life for him. &uot;I hope anyone who knows me would say that I treat them the way I would want to be treated.&uot;