Residents plead to keep LeMay in Natchez, hospital
Published 12:01 am Tuesday, May 14, 2013
NATCHEZ — Residents filed into the Adams County supervisors’ boardroom Monday, leaving standing room only, in hopes of convincing Natchez Regional Medical Center’s leadership to keep cardiologist Dr. Brad LeMay in Natchez.
Several residents addressed NRMC CEO Bill Heburn, Chief Administrative Officer Donny Rentfro and board of trustees members, pleading that they work out a deal to keep LeMay practicing in Natchez.
LeMay announced Friday that he would be leaving the area after a failure to negotiate a satisfactory contract with county-owned NRMC. LeMay is also displeased that NRMC would not be continuing its partnership with Jackson Heart Clinic to provide call coverage during LeMay’s time off. LeMay technically works for Jackson Heart Clinic, which operates a location in Natchez through a partnership with NRMC.
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Many of the residents said they are LeMay’s patients or have family members who are. Several residents said LeMay has given his cell phone number to patients and has made himself available at all hours to care for his patients, as well as becoming a contributing member of the community.
Mattie McGehee said her daughter was diagnosed with a heart condition at 27, and LeMay is her doctor. McGehee said she has called LeMay eight to 12 times on his cell phone, one time when her daughter collapsed.
“He made it to my house and stayed on the floor with me until the ambulance got there,” she said.
Supervisor Mike Lazarus said his father is in intensive care in Jackson and will need to see LeMay when he gets home. Lazarus asked Rentfro and Heburn if LeMay’s contract was strictly about money or quality health care.
“That will help me make my decision if it comes down to selling the hospital or leasing it,” he said.
Supervisors recently admitted a company seeking to purchase NRMC recently approached county leaders.
Rentfro said NRMC’s negotiations with LeMay were not just about money.
“We will go after a very strong cardiologist to ensure we’re able to provide that need to anybody in this room and your father when he gets home,” Rentfro said. “It’s not all about money. Health care is important.”
Heburn later said it comes down to “dollars and cents.”
Heburn said LeMay wants 12 weeks a year off, and contracting with Jackson Heart to provide call coverage for those weeks would cost $20,000 a week.
Heburn and Rentfro said that time off is more than any other of Regional’s physicians is given, and that the contract offered was in the 70th percentile, according to industry standards.
LeMay said Monday evening he asked for eight weeks of paid time off. The 12-week figure the hospital presented would include holidays and weekends.
“That’s not the way you calculate vacation time,” he said.
After hearing many residents say that LeMay, unlike other physicians they know, gives his cell phone number to patients, Heburn said that LeMay complained to him about the amount of patient calls he receives on his off time.
LeMay, who was not in attendance at the Monday morning meeting, said that evening that Heburn’s comment was an “absolute lie.”
“That is an absolute fabrication,” LeMay said. “I have never complained about getting calls from patients. I have never been disappointed or irritated with patients calling.”
Heburn also said NRMC and Jackson Heart told LeMay not to give out his cell phone number to patients.
“Bill Heburn told me to do that … he wanted me to take the time off and turn the pager off, and the weeks I was off, there would be no cardiologist available,” LeMay said. “That’s not the way to do things. That’s not right.
“You can’t live in a small town and go to the grocery store and see somebody who says, ‘My husband was in the emergency room last night, where were you?’ and just say ‘Oh sorry, I was off.’ You can’t do that to people.”
LeMay said he is not willing to work for a hospital with such a poor track record. He said NRMC has been as much as two months behind on paying Jackson Heart for his salary. LeMay, who came to Natchez as a Jackson Heart doctor, said the clinic went ahead and paid his salary despite NRMC being behind.
LeMay said he even offered during recent contract negotiations to take a lower salary to offset the cost of keeping Jackson Heart for call coverage.
Mayor Butch Brown, who is also a patient of LeMay’s, said he talked to LeMay’s boss Dr. Russell Young at Jackson Heart Friday, who said the clinic’s board would be willing to have a sit-down meeting with NRMC administration and board.
Brown also said that Young told him Jackson Heart had offered to reduce the $20,000 a week fee to $15,000 and waive a $6,000 fee for supplies.
Heburn said that Jackson Heart pulled out of the contract negotiations and had not told him that they wanted to meet.
The Rev. Jim Sanders asked NRMC to “be the bigger person” and make the call to Jackson Heart.
LeMay said Jackson Heart pulled out of negotiations because Heburn attempted to add a clause in the contract that stipulated Jackson Heart make at least 80 percent of what LeMay makes during the weeks the clinic was covering for LeMay. If they didn’t, LeMay said, Jackson Heart would have to pay a certain percentage to NRMC.
LeMay said that was an unreasonable request because patients do not go see fill-in doctors unless they absolutely have to.
One resident suggested at the meeting that the hospital use a portion of the out-of-court lawsuit settlement it received from its former management company Quorum Health Resources to keep LeMay in Natchez.
Former Natchez mayor Tony Byrne said he believes a large part of the problem is miscommunication.
“The he said, she said, they said seems to be going around in circles,” Byrne said.
Another communication problem, Byrne said, is the flow of information from the hospital board to the board of supervisors then to the public.
“As an owner of the hospital, I think I have every right to know what that settlement was and the money the hospital has to work with,” he said.
NRMC Board President the Rev. LeRoy White said LeMay has a “handsome” contract that he has until Friday to sign.
Unless NRMC changes its offer, LeMay said he will be leaving Natchez. He was in Hot Springs, Ark., interviewing for a job Monday. LeMay relocated to Natchez in 2010 from Hot Springs.
“It’s not until Friday; I already told (NRMC) I wasn’t going to take (the proposed contract),” he said.