Now is the time to focus on area’s health care

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 23, 2009

A year ago local attorney and would-be peacekeeper Walter Brown suggested Natchez needed an end to the health care “arms race.”

Perhaps his call for a détente was a bit premature, but maybe the peace accords are now on the verge of happening.

Brown, who has for years served as hospital attorney for Natchez Regional Medical Center, may be a little biased when it comes to health care, but his heart seems to be in the right place.

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Natchez has for years suffered from an almost constant one-upmanship from the competing hospitals, publicly owned NRMC and privately owned Natchez Community Hospital.

By all accounts, both facilities are good ones, staffed with quality, caring people who try their best to provide the absolute best care possible.

But through the years the two facilities have been in a quiet competition with one another, a competition that occasionally bubbles to the surface.

Mostly it’s discussed in the circles of physicians and hospital administrators, a few of which used the differences to rally their staff against the “enemy” across the street.

Through the years, the competition mostly has been a silent war.

One side invests in a piece of equipment to lure patients or physicians and almost certainly the other side soon follows suit — a 16-slice CT scan gets bested by a newer 64-slice model.

Technology isn’t the only thing at the center of the health care arms race — people are, too.

Hospital A recruits a specialist and hospital B fights to get one, too. Numerous employees have flipped from one facility to another through the years.

And, a few select physicians apparently have used the silent war as leverage to bolster their own power and clout. They use the threat of moving all their business from one hospital and defecting completely to another as the ultimate intimidation tactic.

With such a dearth of physicians, a hospital administrator would have a difficult time standing up to such a physician — and few, if any, have.

Some physicians, however, seem to be deft at keeping a foot on each side of the line and keeping the peace.

Years and years ago, this very newspaper changed its standard practice just to keep the peace.

While many newspapers print the traditional “first baby of the New Year” article each year, The Natchez Democrat typically prints two — one from NRMC and one from NCH.

The practice apparently started after some editor simply got tired of being blamed for being “biased.”

Natchez’s medical community is in a unique position at the moment.

NRMC continues to be in flux after filing bankruptcy and failing to sell the facility last year. NCH’s CEO just announced he would be leaving soon, meaning that the hospital’s owner, Health Management Associates, will be seeking a replacement.

So both facilities are in a position to have a change of leadership and that may be just what the doctor ordered.

Natchez needs a peacemaker — or two — right now.

We need the two facilities to work together — whenever possible — to recruit physicians and to decide which facility will focus on which specialties.

In the process, imagine how much improved health care in our community could become if all the energy that has been spent on making each facility stand out were focused instead on simply improving quality of care.

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