Bitter taste of NRMC deal will soon fade

Published 12:05 am Sunday, October 5, 2014

A discharge date was set and a rehab routine outlined for the people of Adams County last week. The saga of public ownership for Natchez Regional Medical Center is nearly complete.

After more than half a century, the publicly owned hospital was sold to Community Health Systems, a Tennessee company that manages more than 200 hospitals across dozens of states.

Unfortunately, the sale couldn’t come fast enough to avoid the hospital’s inept leaders from blowing millions and millions of dollars over the past couple of years, including approximately $2 million in professional legal, accounting and consulting fees tied to the sale.

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The financial woes of the hospital were not the fault of the rank and file employees, but the arrogant financial leaders who were too proud to scream, “Help!” as millions of dollars were being incinerated.

Regional employees were assured all would be made right, but the same “professionals” were paying themselves ahead of the bankruptcy. They probably knew creditors would receive pennies on the dollar.

Adams County must right the problems with both NRMC employees’ retirement plan and health benefits that were allowed to lapse during the hospital’s bankruptcy.

As smelly as Natchez Regional’s decline was — and it smelled more foul than the worse possible garbage — the promise of what is to come is enough to briefly allow us to look past the nastiness.

Chances are pretty good that the new owners are not going to build an entirely new hospital building, at least not anytime soon.

Instead, they’ll do what competent and prudent business owners do — make what they own better and usable through smart renovation.

Last week, CHS representatives suggested the company planned extensive renovations to the Natchez Regional facility.

The changes will include bringing the aging facility up to more modern standards, but also to expand sections to handle more patients — expected when CHS combines Natchez Regional with Natchez Community Hospital.

So what can locals expect from the new owners?

First and foremost, the new owners seek to operate the hospital at enough of a profit to allow them to invest in the facility.

That means they have professionals handling all aspects of hospital operations.

That’s refreshing and welcomed.

For another six to nine months, the two hospitals will operate separately, at least on paper.

But eventually the two will merge into one and function from Natchez Regional’s existing building.

A long-mothballed floor of the hospital will be reopened to allow the single facility to handle all the community’s needs.

In the end, things will be better.

The bitter taste of what happened at Natchez Regional will fade over time, at least in the minds of most unconnected citizens.

Hopefully, the community will be able to capitalize on the mistakes of the past and focus hard on recruiting high quality specialists to the area.

If that can be accomplished, and the patients trust those physicians, perhaps then the area can stop sending millions of dollars in healthcare payments outside the county.

Now, when a person in Natchez talks about a serious healthcare matter, too many of us talk about the need to leave the area for care.

That may be among the new owners’ biggest challenges, but it’s not insurmountable.

Fixing the past mistakes of others is impossible, but rebuilding a local hospital in which the community can take pride certainly isn’t.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or