NRMC chief leaving

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 17, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; After nearly six years as CEO of Natchez Regional Medical Center, Jack Houghton is leaving to take the helm of the publicly owned hospital in his hometown.

Houghton, who has led both public and private hospitals for more than 30 years, said he will take over as CEO of Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Del Rio, Texas, by the end of March.

Houghton informed Val Verde officials Sunday he would take the job, and Monday afternoon he was in the process of informing NRMC board members of his decision.

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Though Val Verde is a smaller facility than NRMC &8212; 100 beds compared to NRMC&8217;s 179 beds &8212; Houghton said going back to his hometown has its appeal.

&8220;It&8217;s where my roots are,&8221; he said, adding that Val Verde officials first approached him about the job several months ago.

Houghton noted the last three to four years have been hard for NRMC. That period included a tough legislative battle for tort reform and the subsequent loss of 30 percent of the hospital&8217;s medical staff. The closing of International Paper&8217;s Natchez mill &8220;affected the whole local economy, including us,&8221; he said.

James Coleman, chairman of the NRMC board, said competition from Natchez Community Hospital and from Riverview Medical Center in Vidalia also makes things more difficult.

&8220;And when you&8217;re making tough calls, you&8217;re going to be unpopular with some people,&8221; Coleman said. &8220;Jack has gotten a bad rap with some doctors and other people here in the hospital.

But Coleman added the board members &8220;are really going to miss Jack. He&8217;s probably the best administrator we&8217;ve ever had &8230; and a truly great man.&8221;

For his part, Houghton said he is proud of the financial turnaround NRMC has experienced in the last five to six months.

&8220;Natchez has been fabulous,&8221; Houghton said. &8220;I love this community. And this is one of the finest hospitals I&8217;ve ever served.&8221;

Houghton has served as an administrator of both for-profit and not-for-profit hospitals from Texas to Wyoming and, just before coming to NRMC, in Bossier City, La.

He also spent three years in the U.S. Army managing a military hospital during the Vietnam War.