County calls for hospital study

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NATCHEZ — On Tuesday the Adams County Board of Supervisors passed a motion that brings them more closely in sync with the restructuring plan laid out by Natchez Regional Medical Center’s CEO.

Tuesday’s motion calls for the board to begin the process that would essentially hire a consulting group to study Natchez Regional Hospital.

Board President Henry Watts said he felt the results of that study should be used to determine the hospital’s future.

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Watts said he and other board members agreed with CEO Scott Phillips’ plan “in principal.”

However Phillips’ plan, already agreed upon by the hospital board of trustees, calls for the conversion of the hospital to a private corporation through its sale.

Watts said he felt that language too strictly limited the supervisors in what they could ultimately do with the hospital. He said he wanted to hear from the consulting group, then have the board of supervisors make a decision.

The supervisors, not the board of trustees, have the final say in what can be done with the hospital once the study has been conducted.

And Watts said he felt the board could make its most informed decision only after the study had been done.

Watts pointed out that the study could reveal that the hospital should be sold, leased or even retained by the county.

Watts said he intends to bring consultants to the board that will discuss both sale and lease of the hospital.

Hospital board attorney Walter Brown said he felt if the hospital were to be retained by the county it would likely be back in bankruptcy within a few years.

The board could begin to meet with representatives from consulting firms as early as their next meeting on May 26.

While Brown and trustee chairman Dan Bland attempted to convey a sense of urgency in the hiring process, Watts said he felt the decision was too important to be rushed into.

“I’m not going to be rushed into the biggest transaction the county’s ever had,” Watts said. “This is bigger than Rentech.”

Watts and Brown both said they have already spoken to firms about conducting the hospital study.

And which company is hired will also be the board’s decision.

But that study won’t come cheap.

Estimates at Tuesday’s meeting ranged from $25,000 to close to $150,000 for the study.

Brown said the more in depth the study, the better the buyer to be attracted — if the hospital will be sold.

“That’s what buyers are going to look at,” he said.

While the supervisors face more challenging decisions in the future, Brown said he felt Tuesday’s motion was a step in the right direction.

“We’re grateful they acted expeditiously,” he said.

Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter perhaps best summed up the mood of the board at the end of Tuesday’s meeting.

“We just want to do the best thing for the county,” he said.

Watts said while interviewing firms to conduct should start soon while the actual study should take 90 days.

“And we won’t know until the study is done,” Watts said of the hospital future.