Coahoma County has signed a deal to transfer Northwest Regional Medical Center from Community Health System to Delta Health System, but the ink isn’t dry yet.
Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson signed a letter of intent last week to shift it lease from Community Health System (CHS) to Delta Health Systems (DHS) out of Greenville, modify tax payments and get assurances on physical plant changes to the hospital.
The closing is set for the end of this month.
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.
If the deal closes as planned the county will see the remaining 14-years on the lease with CHS honored, taxes that would be paid by the hospital over those 14-years guaranteed and maintenance and approximately $2.3 million in improvements needed at the hospital satisfied.
“I believe we are going to be successful with this,” said Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson. “I think I can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dollar amounts for the three key points of concern to the county are: a lease that generates approximately $500,000 a year; $900,000 in county, city and school taxes paid annually by CHS; and what are more than $2 million in renovation, improvements or demolition needed at NMRMC.
Supervisors Newson and Dist. 1 Supervisor Paul Pearson met with CHS earlier this month to hammer out the final details of the hospital transfer.
In a statement released Nov. 4, NMRMC said DHS has signed an initial agreement seeking to manage 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.
Lease payments 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.
DHS is a not-for-profit corporation owned by Washington County and as such does not pay property taxes. Coahoma County’s concern with no local representation on the DHS Board of Directors has been discussed. By-laws setting up the hospital in Greenville require all board members to be from Washington County. It appears legislation would be needed out of Jackson to change that.
DHS told supervisors in October it had been talking with CHS about this transition or deal for more than eight months.
Newson said at that time 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.”
Delta Health System
Based in Greenville, Delta Health System holds medical care facilities in the Mississippi Delta.
DHS said in a press release it 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, DHS has indicated it wants to focus on cardiology, primary care and gastroenterology. DHS 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 already has a presence in Clarksdale with Dr. Mtanius Sultani and Clarksdale Cancer Center.
DHS administers nine clinics or locations and has approximately 325 beds. They serve seven counties in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana and are actively seeking partnerships with healthcare providers across the Delta.
They said a focus will be placed on the ER – reducing wait times – and making sure the physicians and nurses needed to manage the workflow are in place. DHS will also be investing in marketing and branding of the Clarksdale facility to make sure the community is aware of the changes, especially new doctors and services.
Community Health Systems
Community Health Systems Inc., is one of the nation’s leading operators of general acute care hospitals. The organization’s affiliates own, operate or lease 106 hospitals in 18 states with approximately 17,000 licensed beds.
CHS officials met with supervisors in February to request the county address five projects or plans for the hospital.
Changes to the lease requested by CHS were:
• Removing the glass solarium along the front of the hospital.
• Repairing the hospitals elevator.
• Giving the 3,000 square-foot nursing school back to the county.
• Giving 12.1 acres of land on Ohio Avenue back to the county.
• Tear down and remove the Flowers Wing.
The latest twist to the deal has seen the renovation of the hospital’s pharmacy placed higher on the list of proposed upgrades.
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 hospital. Watkins & Eager of Jackson are the county’s attorney of record in this transaction.
Trilogy’s report to supervisors in October 2019 said the current 181-bed hospital in Clarksdale was built in 1952 and much of the infrastructure at the sprawling facility is in need of repair. The report also suggested the hospital footprint be reduced to about 50 beds.
The report said the hospital sees roughly 24,000 people annually through its emergency room, which acts as “the front door” for the hospital.
Northwest Regional is currently a Level 4 Trauma Center meaning they can handle most emergencies and can perform surgery to stabilize patients before sending them to a Level 5 Trauma Center – the medical professions highest level of emergency care.
Northwest Regional is also a primary stroke center and routinely offers a better outcome for patients who have had a stroke. The hospital is also an accredited chest pain center.
The hospital has a Labor and Delivery Suite, which includes two labor/delivery rooms, five regular labor rooms, two delivery rooms and a 23-bassinet newborn and intensive care nursery. Northwest Regional saw over 700 births in 2018 or about two a day.
Newson said one of his main concerns in negotiations has been the staffing and employee numbers at the Clarksdale hospital.
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. DHS has said it has plans to invest in its new employees through training, benefits and upward mobility opportunities.