Situation not as simple as ‘Scrubs’

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 19, 2010

If our world operated like a television show, all life’s challenges would be resolved in 60-minute segments.

Like a good hospital drama, the patient would be wheeled into the emergency room from an ambulance before the show’s theme song begins. A diagnosis would be given in the first half of the show. The patient’s personal and family problems would be aired out and by the end of the rolling credits the show would reach some resolution.

It would make life much simpler to know things could be resolved as quickly, wouldn’t it?

As much as we might like that immediate gratification, life just doesn’t happen that way.

It has been seven years since the steam has risen from the International Paper mill smokestacks.

Rumors of the plant’s demise circulated through the community for years before the final announcement of the mill’s closure.

But when it happened, the response was grim. Community leaders recognized the impact the closure of Adams County’s biggest industry would have on the area.

The community was in cardiac arrest. Many expected to see immediate effects — store closures, a rising crime rate and plummeting tax dollars.

While 600 workers’ futures were put in immediate jeopardy, the announcement of IP’s closure did not cause the community to suffer a fatal heart attack.

Thanks in part to Hurricane Katrina, sales tax numbers rose in the years after IP’s withdrawal, construction of hotels ensued and life in Natchez stayed relatively calm.

Health crisis averted. Or was it?

Maybe the closure of IP was less like cardiac arrest and more like a degenerative disease.

When I drive along our highways these days, I see signs of a community that is shrinking — not thriving.

The bright fluorescent yellow building that sits across from the Natchez Mall on John R. Junkin Drive sits empty. Built after the International Paper closure, it has struggled through two incarnations as a television and appliance store. The space occupied by the Video USA store on U.S. 61 North now sits empty.

Unlike many downtown businesses that depend on tourist dollars, these and other businesses like them survive off dollars from everyday Natchezians.

For every new job that is created, there are many supporting businesses — grocery stores, clothing stores, gas stations, for example — that are affected positively. Conversely, the loss of one job has a negative effect. In fact it could be argued that job losses have a greater effect than job gains.

After all, it’s harder to maintain a city on an increasingly shrinking population base.

That is why the decision that Adams County Supervisors will make soon about the future of Natchez Regional Medical Center hospital is so important.

Once again, the future of one of the county’s largest employers is in question.

This time the questions concern the motive of Health Management Associates in seeking to buy out Natchez Regional, their biggest competitor. Would they buy Natchez Regional just to close it down?

Of course, for HMA that would be a business decision. But for the county supervisors the question of whether to sell the hospital is a community decision.

Thankfully the supervisors have not closed the door on open communications with the hospital staff nor with HMA.

After all, supervisors need to make an informed deliberate decision.

It should not be decision made in 60 minutes or less.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor for The Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.