Hospital board expected to meet with county supervisors today

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NATCHEZ — The Adams County Board of Supervisors is expected to meet with Natchez Regional Medical Center trustees at noon today.

The discussion could include the reported offer to purchase the county-owned hospital.

Sources close to the hospital said this week the would-be buyer’s offer was for an amount far less than the total debts owed by the hospital, but negotiations may have continued.

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Supervisors Calvin Butler, David Carter, Angela Hutchins and Mike Lazarus said Tuesday they planned to attend the meeting.

Lazarus said the supervisors have been asked not to discuss the hospital sale publicly except through the board’s president, Darryl Grennell.

“I am anxious to hear their report,” Lazarus said. “We are at a point where we have got to do something, and I am hoping they will have some good news.”

Grennell said he would not be able to attend the meeting because he has to teach a class at Alcorn State University.

The chief executive officer for Healthcare Management Partners, the company hired to help sell the hospital, reportedly is also expected to attend the meeting.

The Rev. Leroy White, president of the hospital’s board of trustees, said HMP CEO Scott Phillips would explain the current status of the sale publicly following the meeting.

White said earlier this week an offer had been made for the hospital, which has been marketed for sale since September. The initial processes to move NRMC into the private sector began in June with the commissioning of a feasibility study from The Horne Group.

The Horne Group’s study recommended selling the hospital rather than placing it under a management contract, though Phillips said that option was considered.

Since the release of the report, the hospital’s consultants, board and administration — which changed in October with the retirement of CEO Bill Heburn and the appointment of current CEO Donnie Rentfro — have made a case for selling based on finances, patient outflow and infrastructure needs.

Maintaining an independent, rural hospital would be cost prohibitive as federal health care laws come into play, administrators have said, and the hospital cannot afford to upgrade its aging physical plant if it is not part of a larger health care system.

Hospital officials have also said recruiting needed physicians to the area can only be done if NRMC belongs to a wider system.

The marketing of the hospital began after a September public hearing, during which Heburn said his opinion was the hospital would have to sell or it would close in two years.

The initial stages of the sale have been limited to a so-called stalking horse process, in which a limited pool of bidders make an offer for the hospital.

When the stalking horse bid is awarded, the hospital will then be placed on the open market with the stalking horse’s bid considered the base price. If no one else bids on the hospital, the stalking horse will become the ultimate buyer.

Before the hospital is placed on the market, the board will have to advertise its sale for a month, and during that period, residents have the ability to petition for a referendum on the matter. The petition would require 1,500 signatures.

Phillips led NRMC in 2008 when the hospital was in bankruptcy, and a move to sell the facility at that time was unsuccessful.

NRMC opened in 1960 as Jefferson Davis Memorial Hospital. Its $2.4 million construction was underwritten by an $800,000 local contribution and state and federal funds.

It has been financially independent since 1974 and does not receive tax support, but is backed by a 5-mill standby tax that the Mississippi Development Bank required the hospital to get in 2006 when it asked for the MDB to reissue its revenue bond.