Board to discuss hospital; Some supervisors want more information about finances

Published 12:12 am Friday, January 24, 2014

NATCHEZ — Two Adams County supervisors said that while they are satisfied in many respects with the process being used to market Natchez Regional Medical Center, they wish they had a clearer picture of the county-owned hospital’s finances.

The Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m today in the boardroom at their offices to discuss the Wednesday update about the sale the supervisors received from the hospital’s board of trustees and the consultant hired to sell the hospital.

The update included the discussion of an offer that has been put forward for the hospital.

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Supervisor Calvin Butler said in many ways he is pleased with the work that has been done, but does not know if he could make a decision because he has not seen a full financial dossier for the hospital.

“It is hard to be in a situation and not know all the details,” he said. “It is hard to sell a house if you don’t know how much it has been appraised for.”

Supervisor Mike Lazarus said he has been given roundabout numbers in response to his questions about finances, and he believes more specific numbers will be forthcoming as a decision becomes more imminent.

“At the end of the day, we are going to be asked to make a decision on selling the hospital, and we are going to need to know what the numbers are,” he said.

And while Lazarus expressed frustration at the Mississippi laws that can be used to keep hospital finances out of the public eye — the hospital budget the supervisors approved this year was a one-page pro forma document — he said he wanted to be clear he was not trying to start a fight with the hospital board, which he, as a supervisor, helped appoint.

“The trustees are doing the best they can with the information they are getting,” he said. “These are good people. They are not making squat for what they are doing, and it is taking a lot of their time and, it is a lot of pressure on them.”

Supervisors’ President Darryl Grennell said based on what information he has been given — and past experience — he feels competent to make a decision about the hospital sale when the time comes.

“This is not the first time these issues have come up, and they have come up for many years, even before my tenure on the board — every three or four years the topic of a hospital sale comes up,” he said

But before he could comment on the offer, Grennell said he needs to be brought up to speed. He was not able to attend the meeting Wednesday.

Butler said that while finances are important, he wants to ensure the county has a continuity of health care.

“If the county didn’t make a penny out of it but was able to get the taxpayers off the hook, I would be OK,” he said. “But I  still want to make sure whoever buys it still provides quality health care for the whole community.”

Grennell said he is looking for the county to capture a sale that is better than a break-even deal and could possibly garner some additional funds, while Lazarus said he had not set a minimum price in his mind.

Lazarus said the process has taken longer than he would like, comparing it to watching paint dry.

“I am just like everybody else in Adams County,” Lazarus said. “Everybody knows I am a little high-strung, and I get frustrated with how long the process takes, but unless I have an idea to fix it, I have to go along with it.”

Plans are being put in place by the hospital administration to continue operations even if NRMC is not sold, Lazarus said, and the public should be aware those plans are being made.

Grennell said the board members are doing what they can to protect the county’s interests in the sale.

“We are doing the best we can for the taxpayers, and we are looking out for the best interests of Adams County,” he said.

Supervisors David Carter and Angela Hutchins deferred comment until a later date when the board has been able to further formulate its strategies.

“We have to go back among ourselves and talk about what we want to do,” Hutchins said.

The initial steps to sell the hospital began in June, when hospital trustees and administrators said the limitations of the local market and the ultimate needs of the hospital facility called for NRMC to be part of a larger health care network.

Since July, Healthcare Management Partners has served as the consulting firm marketing the hospital.

Since September, HMP has sought inquiries and led negotiations for the sale of the hospital, seeking a purchase price from a buyer in a vetting process known as a stalking-horse bid.

After an agreement is reached, the hospital will by law still have to go to auction, but if no one outbids the agreed-upon price, the deal will close in favor of the stalking-horse bidder.

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 get in 2006 when it asked for the MDB to reissue its revenue bond.