The Coahoma County Board of Supervisors managed to make a deal to keep the Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center open, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
Local doctors throughout the county expressed those very sentiments.
Curae Health Inc., the company running the hospital, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. A deal was made at a bankruptcy hearing in Nashville Oct. 23 and the supervisors acted on it. The county wired $1,239,565 to Curae Health Inc. on Nov. 5 and $954,784.17 on Monday from the hospital reserve fund to pay employees and for the facility to operate.
Community Health Systems, also on the lease for the hospital, must take over if Curae Health Inc. cannot meet its obligations. CHS will begin running the hospital Dec. 10 and the goal is to find a new operator within the next year.
Kushna Damallie, an obstetrician gynecologist at Woman’s Clinic, has been in Clarksdale for 15 years and was first recruited by Dr. Bo Marley. He graduated from medical school at Boston University in 1999, trained in east Tennessee until 2003 and then came to Clarksdale.
Damallie said CHS is a renowned and known company capable of keeping cash flow going at the hospital. He stressed the importance of having an obstetrician gynecologist in Coahoma County.
“You would have to go to Batesville,” he said. “You would have to go to Cleveland. You would have to go to Greenwood. You would have to go to Oxford. You would have to go to Southaven. You would have to go to Memphis, which is from an obstetrician gynecologist standpoint a nightmare. Because, if you live in Coahoma County and you go into labor, you really have to be within 30 minutes of a hospital. Sometimes sooner than that depending on the nature of what’s going on.”
Richard Brownstein, a gastroenterology specialist, agreed location was a prime concern.
“We’re in the middle of an area that’s very far from any other hospital, so anybody that’s severely ill or injured might not get to another hospital,” he said. “We serve a poor population as well and they deserve care as much as anybody. A lot of those people are not able to get transportation to Memphis or Jackson or Oxford.”
Tony Sultani, oncologist who has worked in Coahoma County for 21 years, was practicing in Nebraska when Health Management Associates, the company that ran the hospital at the time, recruited him. He has found Clarksdale to be a friendly community and also stressed the need of having a hospital.
“I think this would be the best interest of the county,” Sultani said. “Clarksdale cannot afford, no way, for the hospital to shut down, so whatever it takes. I’m confident that the county supervisors were very adamant about keeping the hospital open. I hope and pray that CHS will end up doing what they’re supposed to do because major changes should happen at the hospital. Otherwise, it cannot continue to be open with the way things are going now.”
Radiologist Hunter Nelson has worked at the hospital for 10 years. He left a large group in Alabama, came to Clarksdale to have a positive impact and called it one of the best decisions he ever made. He felt much more than medical care was at stake when the hospital could have closed.
“If that is true, that really gives the facility and county some stability short-term,” said Nelson of the deal the Supervisors made. “Hopefully, in the meantime, they can find an appropriate buyer that will actually make the hospital more stable and solvent going forward. I do that over time they’ll have to make some difficult choices as to what’s the most prudent thing the hospital should provide for our clientele. But it’s something I do believe we have to have in Coahoma County. It’s like a staple of the community. And so goes the hospital, so goes the community, in my opinion.”
Pathologist Andrew Martin has been the laboratory medical director since 1999 and never believed the rumors of the hospital closing.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the efforts of people like Dr. Sultani, people like (Board of Supervisors president) Paul Pearson and the Board of Supervisors and CHS for standing up and taking account of what’s going on here and making sure Curae was not able to shut down the hospital. I did not think they would be able to do so since I knew it was a lease, but in any event, I think it was a good outcome.”
Pearson said the hospital has everything in place to market the hospital better than it has the past year.
“Everything has happened so fast,” he said. “We haven’t really had a chance. What we’ve really been focused on is saving the hospital, helping people go have a place to get their healthcare. Now we can look at what it would take to market the hospital, do some PR work, working with our nurse practitioners in the area and working with the doctors and just making sure that we have the information that’s necessary.”
All five doctors had their own outlook on the next step to keep Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center open.
Nelson felt many questions must be answered, but did express confidence the hospital will do well when they are answered.
“Whenever a business changes four or five hands, there’s always things that are done that don’t make necessarily good economic sense,” he said. “But nobody knows what those things are.
“If the facility was unable to be solvent with the previous owner, was it because of management or revenue generation? That’s a big question. Nobody knows if it was a management issue or a revenue issue.”
Sultani believed economic decisions must be made.
“They need to cut the cost because there are a lot of dysfunctional operations at the hospital,” he said, noting an estimated $25,000 per month is spent on the wound center.
“The referral base of the hospital is really weak. They need to change the image of the hospital. The workforce needs to be adjusted according to the needs of the operation. The contracts with the doctors and nurse practitioners should be adjusted to where there will be incentive to work.”
Damallie agreed doctors need to depend on one another as referral consultants and out only recommend someone go out of town if a service cannot be provided in Coahoma County.
His main concern was for the patients.
“We’re physicians,” Damallie said. “We’re going to be OK. We can always get jobs, but my concern was more for the community. At the end of the day, the doctors were going to be fine. We could always relocate.”
Brownstein said there is a misconception that better care is provided outside of the community.
“There’s no question in my mind that this can be a very viable, vibrant even institution and can immensely help the city of Clarkdale,” he said.
“I hope it’s a wakeup call that the city needs to support their hospital because we’re not going to get another chance. If it doesn’t work this time, you can forget it. There won’t be a hospital.”
Martin said some of the issues the hospital will be dealing with are sending patients out, emergency room, employed physicians and revenue streams. He added they will always deal with changing Medicare and Medicaid numbers.
When it comes right down to it, he said the community must support its hospital.
“The whole concept of, ‘If you hire them, they will come’ does not necessarily translate into business,” Martin said. “It reminds me a lot of the movie Field of Dreams, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ That may be true in the movie when you’re dealing with mythical characters, but it’s not usually true in the whole hospital setting. If you don’t publicize the great doctors and nurse practitioners that you have on staff, people just don’t know.”