Coahoma County Supervisors met with their consultants and lawyers for more than two hours Tuesday to begin the process of striking deals with both Delta Health System and Community Health Systems.
Delta Health Systems (DHS) has said it wants to manage Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center (NMRMC) in Clarksdale and Community Health System (CHS) the current managers have said they want out of their lease with Coahoma County Board of Supervisors.
Three key points of concern to the county are how will the remaining 15-years of a 30-year lease for the hospital be serviced, would DHS pay taxes and how much and who will maintain the property under a possible new lease agreement.
Supervisors hired Trilogy Healthcare Solution of Flowood as a consultant more than a year ago to help them assess needs at the Clarksdale hospital and to study possible solutions to problems faced by the local hospital. Watkins & Eager of Jackson are the county’s attorney of record in this transaction.
In a statement released Nov. 4, NMRMC said DHS has signed an initial agreement seeking to purchase the hospital and its related physician clinics and outpatient services. CHS has told the county it is seeking to end its connection with NMRMC and is seeking to transfer its lease.
One option for the county would be to obtain a line of credit from CHS or DHS to service the remainder of the lease. The county’s current lease with CHS generates approximately $500,000 a year and CHS, one of the nations largest managers of hospitals and a publicly traded company, pays about $460,000 in taxes to the county, city and schools. DHS is a not-for-profit corporation owned by Washington County and as such does not pay property taxes to the county.
Lease payment to the county are deposited into a Hospital Trust Fund designated for emergencies related to providing healthcare in the community. The fund currently has about $25 million in the account. The county can borrow from that fund and most recently took $2 million from that account to leverage work on the Jonestown bypass, county fire station and complete the new Justice Center and Coahoma County Jail.
How those funds might be used to improve healthcare in Coahoma county has not been decided by supervisors.
DHS told supervisors in October it had been talking with CHS about a change for more than eight months. Supervisor Johnny Newson said at that time the county had not seen any proposal from either DHS or CHS.
Newson did not want to talk about negotiations and referred questions to board attorney Tom Ross.
Newson did say he hopes the county can strike agreeable deals with both DHS and CHS.
“We are pooling our resources at this time and talking with our consultants and attorneys,” said Newson. “I hope whatever we do will make healthcare better for our community. That’s our goal in this deal.”
Newson went on to say DHS appears to be a good fit for Clarksdale.
“They are Delta folks and know this market,” said Newson. “Many of the medical needs they see are the same ones we face – heart disease, kidney disease – and I think they could make this work.”
NMRMC also has an advisory board and DHS has a board of directors. Another item to be worked out will be what kind of representation Clarksdale might have – if any – on the DHS board.
The county hopes to finalize agreements with DHS and CHS by the end of the year.
Based in Greenville, Mississippi, Delta Health System holds medical care facilities in the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta.
The release said Delta Health System is focused on enhancing and growing quality care and services to meet community needs. It also said as part of the purchase agreement they are making a number of commitments to Northwest Mississippi Medical Center and the Coahoma County community.
When the transaction is complete, Northwest Mississippi Medical Center has said it will add service lines including cardiology, primary care and gastroenterology. DHS has experienced cardiologists ready to start on day one and will be sharing the resources of the recently launched Family Medicine Residency program to address the primary care needs; program residents will be making rounds in the Clarksdale facility.
“As the largest medical provider in the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta, Delta Health System is committed to taking a leadership role to sustain healthcare and keep it viable in our local communities,” said Scott Christensen, Delta Health System Chief Executive Officer. “We are excited about the possibilities to collaborate with the medical staff and employees of Northwest Mississippi Medical Center to deliver quality care and medical services for Coahoma County residents.”
Delta Health System is addressing the physician shortage in the Delta through its Family Medicine Residency Program where 24 new Family Medicine physicians will be practicing in the Delta region by 2023. Statistically, up to 60-percent of medical residents will put down roots where they practiced their residency. These residents will be making rounds in the Clarksdale facility and will help stabilize the healthcare workforce.
The purchase agreement includes a commitment for all employees in good standing at the time of the transaction close to continue employment with their current compensation levels and seniority. DHA plans to invest in its new employees through training, benefits and upward mobility opportunities.
CHS took over management of Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center from Curae in May 2019. Curae declared bankruptcy in August 2018 with hospitals in Clarksdale, Amory and Batesville directly affected. The Amory hospital was sold to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo and the Batesville hospital was sold local investors.
The Coahoma County Board of Supervisors issued a statement in November 2018 saying they planned “to continue operations at Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center with the ultimate goal of identifying a new buyer for the hospital.”
Coahoma County signed an agreement with Trilogy Healthcare Solutions in June 2019. Trilogy, of Ridgeland, was brought into the mix to walk the county through a new working agreement with CHS or to help the county and CHS go separate ways.
Trilogy met with DHS in Greenville earlier this month to obtain information and data that would allow them to advise the county and offer their opinion on details of the lease and possible transition.