Physicians discuss hospital’s future

Published 12:41 am Sunday, March 30, 2008

NATCHEZ — A routine physicians meeting on Wednesday night sparked a number of scenarios for financially troubled Natchez Regional Medical Center including a partial purchase by local physicians.

And, while nothing definitive came from the meeting, it signaled a coalescing of physicians, each of whom has a vested stake in the future of medicine in the Miss-Lou.

The meeting came as Natchez Regional’s Board of Trustees awaited the governor’s signature on a bill allowing Regional to file bankruptcy under Chapter 9.

Email newsletter signup

The hospital announced in late February that it was struggling to pay its bills and is restating its financial statement from last year to reflect a larger-than-anticipated financial loss.

Regional’s current debts are estimated to be approximately $25 million.

Meeting of the MDs

Wednesday’s physicians’ meeting was called by Natchez Community Hospital and was a monthly meeting of Community’s Physician Leadership Council.

However, all area physicians — not just ones on staff at Natchez Community — were invited, Community CEO Tim Trottier said Thursday.

“It was held to give the physicians an opportunity to voice what they feel are concerns in delivering care to the people of Natchez right now,” Trottier said. “There wasn’t even an agenda for the meeting.”

Trottier said he and Dale Armour, senior vice president and division CEO for Community’s parent company, Health Management Associates, were in attendance, but only spoke briefly, to outline the ground rules.

Several dozen doctors were reportedly in attendance.

Two Adams County Supervisors, board president Henry Watts and board member Mike Lazarus, were also present at the meeting.

Watts said he and Lazarus were in attendance only to hear what the physicians thought about the situation.

Further, Watts said he believes the hospital’s board of trustees, not the supervisors, must decide what’s the best avenue for the hospital.

Watts said the mood of meeting was serious with one, overriding theme.

“What are we, the doctors in Natchez, going to do about (Regional’s woes)?” he said. “They didn’t say that, but I think that was sort of the subliminal message.”

Nothing off the table

Trottier wouldn’t discuss specific options that the physicians discussed, but said many ideas were considered.

“There were many doctors who spoke throughout the night,” he said. “There were all kinds of thoughts thrown out on the floor last night.”

Dr. Randy Tillman, who spoke at the meeting, said the meeting was a first step in what he hopes becomes a larger dialog between the physicians, who often work independently of one another, and the people running the hospitals.

“Really, there wasn’t a solid idea that came out of it,” Tillman said. “It was a round robin kind of discussion among the physicians. There were all kinds of topics discussed.”

Such options included the possibility of a sale of Natchez Regional to a for-profit company, sale to a non-profit organization, restructuring the management and even a possible joint venture between local doctors and a for-profit company.

The consortium would, theoretically, help a for-profit company buy NRMC.

One physician said the option to have a company partner with physicians was quietly discussed after the meeting.

“They were looking for 10 doctors to sign on at $1 million each, then they (a private company) said they’d buy the hospital,” the physician said.

“They want the doctors to put up $10 million to help them afford to buy it and there’s no guarantee of getting your money back.”

Trottier said neither he nor Armour spoke at the meeting about having any involvement in a possible purchase of Regional.

Further, he said that if HMA had any such interest, the company has a group that works on such acquisitions and likely would not include Trottier or Armour in discussions.

Keeping beds available

Even if no definitive solution or plan was created at Wednesday’s meeting, several physicians say the important thing is that they’re coming together as a group to discuss the future and importance of NRMC and how the physicians might help the hospital.

“(Natchez Regional’s future) affects the health care of our patients,” Tillman said, adding that the high turnout among the physicians illustrates the importance. “It tells you the gravity of the situation, for them to all show up. There’s a higher level of concern from the members of our community.”

Tillman said Regional must survive in some form or fashion, if for no other reason than the community needs the hospital’s acute care beds.

“If Natchez lost those beds, our ability to be a progressive medical community is going to be seriously damaged,” he said.

Dr. Kenneth Stubbs agreed that Regional’s beds were needed in the community. Further, he was happy that physicians have begun to take an interest in Regional’s future.

“It would be ideal if all the physicians were unified,” Stubbs said. “And I think we are unified with the idea of one hospital. How to achieve that is still up for debate.”

Tillman said the financial problems facing Regional have forced physicians to begin asking themselves tough questions about how the future would look without Regional.

“If you lost those beds at Natchez Regional there will be less doctors here,” Tillman said. “(Natchez Regional) doesn’t have to be sold to survive, but it needs to survive.”

Tillman and Stubbs both said they believed additional meetings of the physicians would occur soon, probably through meetings of the Homochitto Valley Medical Society, a component society of the Mississippi State Medical Association.