Supervisors seek hospital support

Published 12:07 am Saturday, February 1, 2014

NATCHEZ — The best thing the public can do to help the sale of Natchez Regional Medical Center is to continue to support it, the Adams County Board of Supervisors said Friday.

“(The hospital board) says every time an article comes out in the paper saying things are bad, their census goes down,” Supervisor Mike Lazarus said. “You have got to support the hospital, keep it viable. The people who were there (before the sale process started) are still there, and they are still doing a tremendous job. The people who were going to NRMC need to continue to support NRMC.”

Lazarus’ comments were made at the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce and Alcorn State University’s weekly Friday Forum in Natchez.

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At the forum, the supervisors’ attorney, Scott Slover, said he has prepared a draft letter for the supervisors to review, asking for more detailed access to the county-owned hospital’s finances. Under state law, hospital records are granted a special immunity from public scrutiny, including — heretofore — the supervisors.

But because the supervisors will ultimately have to be the ones to approve the hospital sale, Supervisor David Carter said it’s necessary for them to know more.

“When you make these final decisions, you need to know what the numbers are,” he said. “We want to know where we are today. If you are selling your house, if you have a big lump sum in your savings, it will affect your decision differently than if you are broke.”

Lazarus reiterated Carter’s point, saying, “We don’t know if we can sell it for $10 million or $15 million because we don’t know (how much money there is). We have even checked what the taxes would be on it if it was sold, so maybe we could sell it and take on  some debt and make it up through (the) taxes (on the property).”

Lazarus said the matter of the hospital’s reported multi-million dollar settlement with its former management company, the amount of which has also remained a secret since it was reached in late 2012 and sealed by a federal judge at the request of the parties, is not a primary concern of his at this point.

“I have called the state audit department and talked to the audit department, and when Judge (David) Bramlett signed that settlement saying it is to be closed, it is closed,” Lazarus said. “He is a federal judge, so it trumps anything the state does.

“What we want to know (from the hospital is) how much money you have in the bank and how much you owe. I am not going to argue about the settlement, it has already been told to me I am not going to know it. If they have done something illegal, it will come back to them. I have been assured by (NRMC Chief Financial Officer) Charles Mock that they have not spent outside their budget.”

The hospital’s audit is coming out in February, Lazarus said.

“If you can do basic math, you can sit down and figure it out, the amount of the settlement,” he said.

But through all discussions about the sale, Lazarus said he is not going to say anything bad about the hospital’s board of trustees, who are all volunteer appointees looking out for the good of the community.

“I don’t think anyone here would want to be in their seats right now,” he said. “They are not trying to keep secrets from you and they are not out to make enemies of you.”

Carter, likewise, said the public shouldn’t worry that serious discussions aren’t happening.

“A lot of this stuff has been discussed for a long time, but only in executive session, but that is because a lot of it is confidential information,” he said.

Lazarus urged some patience to those itching to hear news from the latest round of discussions between the hospital and a potential buyer.

“They are negotiating right now,” he said. “You don’t buy a car or a house without negotiating.”