Potential NRMC buyer wants Natchez Community hospital, too

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 6, 2009

NATCHEZ — The potential Natchez Regional Medical Center buyer also wants to buy Natchez Community Hospital, NRMC CEO Scott Phillips said Thursday.

And negotiations between Natchez Community’s owner and NRMC’s buyer have slowed the sale, he said.

Phillips met with NRMC employees to discuss recent pay changes and the ongoing effort to sell the hospital.

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Phillips said an unnamed buyer is in discussions with Oschner Health System of New Orleans to manage the Natchez facility.

The buyer wants to consolidate the local healthcare market by purchasing Natchez Community, Phillips said.

While Phillips said he has had no direct contact with Natchez Community’s owner — Healthcare Management Associates — regarding the sale, Phillips said he has been told there are, “active discussions at the corporate level,” between the buyer and HMA.

“(HMA) has not said ‘no,’” he said.

While HMA representatives could not be reached for comment, Community CEO Tim Trottier provided a letter from HMA Senior Vice President and Division President Dale Armour.

“In follow up to our conversation, and after consulting with our corporate leadership, please allow this letter to serve as evidence to your board, physicians and employees that Natchez Community Hospital is not for sale,” Armour said.

Trottier said he did not know why Phillips would name Natchez Community in regard to the NRMC sale.

“We’re a good hospital,” Trottier said. “It makes sense they would want to buy, I’m flattered.”

But Phillips said he believes HMA’s current financial situation is working against HMA and will help solidify the buyer’s move to purchase Natchez Community.

HMA currently has substantial debt, Phillips said.

HMA’s most recent financial earnings statement indicates the company’s long-term debt at Dec. 31, 2008, was approximately $3.2 billion. The statement shows that in 2008, HMA reduced its long-term debt by more than $500 million.

Phillips also told NRMC employees the cuts recently made to on-call pay and shift differential pay have been restored.

The on-call pay is for employees that are being paid, to be on call, who are not actually at the hospital. Shift differential pay is additional hourly pay, mainly for nurses, that is given when a worker works an odd shift, such as a weekend or nightshift.

Phillips said while those cuts would have saved the hospital approximately $800,000 a year, they were resorted because they disproportionately impacted one group of hospital employees.

“We don’t want to do that,” he said.

Dee Ham, a registered nurse, said she was pleased the cuts were restored.

“For a lot of us that’s a very important part of our income,” she said.

But the on-call pay and shift differential pay are not guaranteed forever.

Phillips said the pay will be reviewed, and could be cut if necessary. Hospital administrators have cut some positions and enacted other money saving measures, saying patient numbers dipped at the end of 2008, hurting profits.

Phillips said it’s likely more positions at the hospital will have to be cut in response to the decrease in patient volume.