NRMC shares hospital woes with others

Published 1:22 am Sunday, March 9, 2008

At a certain point in life, most of us realize that we’re all goobers in some form or fashion.

We do dumb things.

We say stupid things.

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We spill things on ourselves.

Things even occasionally come out of our noses or mouths when we don’t expect.

Let’s face it, on a very basic level, we’re all human and we’re all very much alike, regardless of background, upbringing or social status.

The funny thing is, businesses are like that, too.

Our little community newspaper shares commonality with huge mega newspapers, at least on some levels.

Hospitals, it seems, are like that, too.

While our community has been wringing its collective hands wondering what to do about the crippling debt facing county-owned Natchez Regional Medical Center, it turns out a bunch of other hospitals are in similar shape.

One of our reporters found a hospital in Colorado facing a frighteningly similar scenario.

But hospital debt woes are closer to home, too.

Late last week, a reader sent me an article from a financial Web site concerning the heavy debt load facing Health Management Associates, the company that owns Natchez Regional’s competitor, Natchez Community Hospital.

The article, at, states the company is facing a $575 million debt payment this summer, but has less than a quarter of that in the bank at the moment.

The article suggests the company may have to sell off some of its properties to fund the debt payment.

HMA’s stock price has plummeted in the last year. Friday’s closing price was less than half of what it was a year ago.

Several financial analysts have downgraded the stock over the last year, pointing to two primary concerns: growing worries over non-paying patients and looming debt.

Much of HMA’s debt was incurred last year when the company borrowed a couple of billion dollars to give a special, one-time dividend to its shareholders.

Sounds similar to Natchez Regional’s woes doesn’t it?

Regional just isn’t traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

So if struggling to feed debt is common and non-pay customers are more normal than not, maybe Natchez Regional’s problems should be considered in a slightly different light.

Call me a glass is half full sort, but could it be both Regional’s debt and HMA’s struggles will wind up benefiting Natchez?

It might be a long-shot and it could take lots of pushing and more than a little luck, but imagine what would happen if a non-profit group could be convinced to come to Natchez and buy out both hospitals.

Regional, it would seem, might be for sale, given its current state of finances.

Natchez Community reportedly isn’t for sale, at least not publicly. But who knows?

From a potential buyer’s perspective, an opportunity exists in owning the bulk of the market.

Eliminating the medical arms race could clear the way for a new facility to be a truly regional medical facility, one that’s state-of-the-art and a real economic boom for the area.

Call me crazy, but somehow it just seems more logical to have the healthcare system more worried about providing good care than providing good profits or dividends.

If Natchez is ultimately to be a one-hospital town, and I think it will eventually, why not now when the timing might be best?

And having that one hospital be a non-profit just makes sense, too.

It doesn’t take a goober to see the common logic in that.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or