Week of losses shouldn’t be deterrent

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 15, 2009

No way around it, the news last week was bad. But as a community, we must look ahead, keeping our collective legs churning forward.

Our community lost a beloved sheriff. Our middle school lost a 13-year-old pupil.

Both losses are incredibly painful for friends and families, all of whom remain in our prayers.

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Beyond the personal losses, however, the community lost some confidence as well.

Leaders with Natchez Regional Medical Center announced its lone prospective buyer was pulling out, blaming a combination of national economics and the failure of attempts to buy both NRMC and Natchez Community Hospital.

Many residents are upset, as details of the purchase attempts have come to light. It’s easy to see how the carefully worded statements by the management led us all to believe the purchase was much more eminent than it actually was. That’s a shame.

But getting caught up in what didn’t happen doesn’t help us.

At this point, who could blame the would-be buyers? Aside from facing skittish — at best — financing options in the credit markets, healthcare providers are scratching their heads wondering how Washington, D.C.’s new leadership may affect their business.

So what do we do now?

Natchez Regional is still a huge, potential liability for taxpayers. As a publicly owned hospital, its debt is secured by the pledge of tax dollars if the hospital ultimately cannot pay its debts through its own cash flow.

Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, and likely won’t happen given some of the drastic financial changes the hospital’s management has completed.

Now, obviously, isn’t a good time to sell a hospital. So let’s make the best of things until that changes.

In the last year, it seems, a fundamental change has occurred at Regional. It’s gone from a place where the status quo was considered OK, even if that meant losing money, to a place where things have been pared back to operate as a more successful business.

Looking ahead, the role of the highly paid outside management firm needs to be reduced and either a CEO hired or a management firm secured.

The hospital’s focus needs to be on providing quality healthcare and generating enough of a profit to pay down its debt and get out of bankruptcy.

In a year or so, if the climate has changed, hospital leaders can decide if a sale is a good idea again.

In the meantime, our community can help itself.

Our community long has faced the problem of a lack of physicians, particularly some specialists.

The result is that many patients must leave the area to have procedures done. That’s a huge drain to our economy at a time when we can least afford that drain.

The absolute best thing for both our community’s healthcare and our economy would be for everyone to get together and work on physician recruitment.

Much has been said about economic development and the need to be on the same page. Here’s our opportunity.

Physician recruitment doesn’t mean support for a specific hospital.

In fact, the local hospitals could all work together. Why not work up a list of physician needs in the community, split up the list and seek community and business leaders’ help. In no time we could roll out the red carpet for physicians.

We cannot afford to wait for others to help us. We must help ourselves — together.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@ natchezdemocrat.com.