Hospital CEO outlines plans, priorities for consolidated system

Published 12:12 am Saturday, October 4, 2014

NATCHEZ — The chief executive officer of Natchez hospitals said he’d focus on employee engagement in the coming months as the two hospitals begin to consolidate.

“People get into health care as a vocation, from some sense of compassion and wanting to serve the greater good,” said Eric Robinson, CEO of Natchez Community Hospital and Natchez Regional Medical Center. “They want to be there because they want to be part of something that is helping people. If you can tap into that and show that you have a strong organization and they can believe it, you can say, ‘This is where we want to go,’ and they will get you there.”

Robinson’s comments were made at the weekly Friday Forum.

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He was named CEO of both hospitals Wednesday after Community Health Systems — the owner of Natchez Community Hospital — purchased Natchez Regional Medical Center from Adams County.

With the purchase, CHS announced plans to eventually consolidate both hospitals into one at the Natchez Regional campus, which will be renovated to handle the increased patient capacity.

Robinson said he does not know what employee restructuring will look like or how much will be necessary if the consolidated hospital is able to better capture patient outflow from the area with more efficient investments because of less duplication and a stronger ability to recruit physicians.

“There is no list, we don’t have names crossed off or checks by some,” he said. “We anticipate it is not going to be as great as everybody seems to be talking it is going to be.”

For now, the two hospitals will try to mitigate any job loss through attrition, he said.

“This is kind of a small town,” Robinson said. “The labor pool isn’t that deep for these kinds of services, and Natchez Community and Natchez Regional have both had some staffing struggles. You consolidate and you don’t have those issues any more, and you might get a more consistent level of service.”

The consolidated hospital will likewise help recruit physicians who might have been reluctant to come to a town that might almost require them to work at two hospitals, he said.

“What has complicated that in Natchez, a town this size, is that you have to get on staff at both hospitals because patient loyalties lie with one hospital or the other,” he said. “They have to take calls at both, and other physicians may wonder about medical staff politics, but when you consolidate that all goes away.

“If you can keep patients here, I don’t believe that will be the silver bullet, but that will get rid of a lot of what has been perceived as a (physician recruiting) barrier in the past.”

Natchez Community Hospital has a minority ownership by a group of 10 physicians.

A government moratorium has frozen the licensing of hospitals with doctor ownership for several years, Robinson said.

“In order for this consolidation to take place, that syndication (of physicians) has to be unbound,” he said. “The physicians are aware of it, and if there is anyone who is supportive of it, the doctors are supportive of it. It will make their lives a lot easier.”

Robinson said the 10-percent pay cuts a majority of NRMC employees endured in the hospital’s final months of operation have been restored.

NRMC was purchased out of a bankruptcy that was initiated in March.

The Friday Forum is a weekly session with area business or government leaders who speak on topics of area interest.