Doctor says Riverpark left out of discussion about Riverland’s future

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, March 15, 2016

VIDALIA — A Vidalia-based doctor told the Concordia Parish Police Jury Monday he feels like he and his associates have been left out of the discussion about the future of parish-owned Riverland Medical Center.

Dr. Rus Fairbanks, one of the physicians associated with the privately owned Riverpark Medical Center in Vidalia, said he’s heard for two years about plans to possibly expand, rebuild or relocate Riverland — the parish-owned hospital — but no one has approached Riverpark for information during the feasibility study period.

“Riverpark has never been questioned about what our production numbers are, what health care is doing in Vidalia,” Fairbanks said. “We are here and we have been ignored, at least in our offer of our data — how can a rational decision be made without consulting Riverpark?”

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Officials with Riverland said in late February they would delay a final decision on what to do while they studied their options. Two studies — one by the LaPorte Group in 2014 and one by Stroudwater and Associates in 2015 — have been completed. A third company, Elde Bailey, was hired to write an opinion about the Stroudwater proposal.

The hospital followed the Elde Bailey report with the hiring of Market Research Insight, which was hired to present a “scientific approach” to address the hospital’s future.

Fairbanks said Riverpark — an outpatient, physical therapy, sports medicine and digital imaging center — had 34,000 annual patient encounters, with 1,200 hospital admissions. Fairbanks also said he did not believe Promise Hospital was included in the discussions.

“We question the validity of a study that doesn’t take into account our numbers,” he said.

Fairbanks said he was coming to the jury in a “conciliatory manner” after years when “Vidalia was considered the enemy.”

“We draw a lot from Natchez, and these are patients Concordia Parish could capture if we work together,” he said. “In health care, it is good business to embrace your competition, and that is why health care everywhere is being consolidated. If we don’t start working together, we will lose to the forces that are consolidated.”

Concordia Parish controls approximately 25 percent of regional health care, based on Riverpark’s estimates, Fairbanks said.

“We don’t want to dictate anything to anybody,” he said. “We just want to be part of the team.”

When Juror Joe Parker asked Fairbanks if he had taken his concerns to the Riverland board, Fairbanks replied, “We have been ostracized by the administration, and we don’t feel comfortable going to the board meeting. We only feel comfortable coming to the police jury as the directional board.”

Fairbanks said Riverpark had tried approaching the Riverland board with Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland but was turned down, to which Parker replied that he attends nearly every hospital board meeting, “And I never saw where Mayor Copeland tried to get on the agenda.”

Fairbanks said he did not think Riverpark could be “treated with equanimity there.”

“If you only knew the dissention against Riverpark there, you would understand,” he said.

When Juror Jimmy Wilkinson asked Fairbanks what Riverpark would have to gain by working with Riverland, he responded that Riverpark does not have an Emergency Room or inpatient services.

“We don’t have a hospital,” he said.

Coroner-elect Jim Graves, who is also the Riverland Board of Trustees chair, was in attendance, and he said no one has ever been denied a place on the agenda.

He also said representatives from Promise and Riverpark were at the first meeting where the possibility of a new hospital facility was discussed, but they haven’t been back.

“We meet at the same time every month,” he said. “I will put y’all on the next agenda.”

Graves also said the Riverpark physicians are on the courtesy staff at Riverland, and the only reason they don’t work there is because, “They police themselves.”

In other news, the jury voted to enter into a contract that will allow the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office to outfit some non-violent pre-trial detainees with ankle monitors instead of having them housed in the parish jail.

Under the agreement, the police jury would reimburse the sheriff’s office the $5.50 a day service fee for the monitors, but the sheriff’s office would recoup the money by collecting it from the inmates who judges deem eligible for the program, District Attorney Brad Burget said.

The big cost saver for the program will be in the form of medical bills for inmates, which the parish won’t have to cover if they aren’t housed in the parish jail while they wait for trial, Burget said.

Juror Whest Shirley said the police jury’s finance committee had reviewed the program and it would have saved the parish $10,000 in January and February if it had been in place.