Hospitals across the country have been reporting extreme financial troubles for the past few years, but one hospital in Mississippi has experienced enough financial trauma to warrant bankruptcy and a necessary change in ownership. Judge Neil Olack, who presided over Natchez Regional Medical Center’s bankruptcy filing, and who made the final decision on Monday, September 29th to approve the sale of the hospital, stated that selling the facility was the only solution left for the county-owned hospital.
The hospital will cease to be owned by Adams County, and will become part of the national healthcare conglomerate Community Health Systems (CHS). The hospital is being sold to the tune of $10 million, but the sale agreement also requires that CHS pay an additional $8 million in ad valorem taxes in advance.
Adams County has reportedly agreed to provide a $3 million loan to CHS. The Natchez Democrat states that the county has agreed to assume this risky responsibility, wherein it will have to make payments to unsecured creditors, because these creditors funded the hospital and kept it alive for so long.
It appears that the hospital’s problems largely stem from inadequate bookkeeping, and hours of court testimonies were required to untangle the hospital’s inaccurate financial records. Even Judge Olack seemed surprised at first that the case racked up nearly $1.25 million in legal fees — mostly because the case had to be re-worked several times due to faulty proceedings and unreliable sources — but considering that this is the second bankruptcy filing for the hospital in the past five years, many people were expecting the sale.
While the hospital’s finances and looming debts seem to be the driving point behind the decision to sell, it’s important to note that the entire community of Natchez will be affected by this bankruptcy and sale. Within 15 hours of posting the news online, readers of the Democrat article articulated their feelings in an attached poll, and the findings don’t look good: 45% of readers stated that the decision made them “sad,” while 18% stated that they were “furious.”
It’s clear that the hospital will remain open, and the good news for residents is that the hospital agreed to keep all but five employees despite changing hands. Nevertheless, this marks the end of an important locally-owned business in Natchez, and many people are wondering if the unstable hospital will be able to survive under national management. Large healthcare systems are notorious for tying up patients in endless piles of paperwork and unnecessary fees, and patients who are used to a locally-managed healthcare system may be less willing to deal with these issues.
“Many health care facilities both public and private are struggling in today’s economy. When health care facilities close, the entire population they serve can be devastated leaving the community wondering ‘what now?'” says Terri Porter, Doctors Express Clinic Administrator. “Locally owned and operated Urgent Care clinics offer consumers more personalized care and are better able to adjust quickly to changing economics and staying in the community for the long haul. Urgent Cares clinics can treat most non-life threatening injuries and illnesses at a reduced prices from the emergency room.”
Hopefully, the 9% of Natchez Democrat readers who reported feeling “thrilled” by the sale are on to something; perhaps a change of hands is what the hospital needs. But in the meantime, the health concerns of Natchez residents need to be the community’s first priority.