Supervisors table hospital lease agreement

By FLOYD INGRAM / THE PRESS REGISTER,

 

Supervisors have delayed a decision on reducing the lease price for the Clarksdale hospital.

The board met via the internet with Merit Health CEO Steve Dobbs and hospital administrator Joel Southern on Monday next month to discuss the next step for the hospital but quickly said they wanted their consultant Trilogy to review this decision.

Merit is asking for a reduction in its lease price from $500,000 to $425,000 per year.

Dobbs noted the lease is more than 25 years old and the hospital does not fill the beds it did at that time. He

Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson asked to table the matter saying they would meet with hospital leaders again later this month and hammer out a decision.

While Coahoma County owns the property at the Clarksdale hospital, Merit Health manages Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center for CHS (Community Health Systems) and has announced plans to do major renovations at the hospital.

Changes planned are:

• Removing the glass solarium along the front of the hospital.

• Moving the Hicks Healthcare trailer off property behind the hospital.

• 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 county has seen its revenue stream plummet due to the COVID-19 shutdown and Newson has said he wants to see county finances stabilize and Merit begin work on hospital renovations before changing the lease price.

Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center saw its former owner Curae go bankrupt in 2019 and it was rebought by its previous owner CHS (Community Health Systems).

The county had a fund of approximately $30 million from the sale of the facility several years ago and that fund has dropped to roughly $26 million.

Language in the county’s Hospital Reserve fund says that money can only be spent on the hospital. The county took $3 million to meet payroll while the hospital was in bankruptcy.

The hospital basically shut its doors during the coronavirus outbreak and has not been doing elective surgery or taking walk-in patients unless it was an emergency. Elective surgery is one of the most lucrative segments of healthcare and the emergency room funnels walk-in patients to the clinics of local doctors for follow up care.

CHS bought Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center from Curae last summer and finalized their lease with Coahoma County Supervisors in January. A report from the county’s hospital consultant Trilogy proposed a new 50-bed micro hospital be built and estimates have the cost of that facility coming in at around $25 million.

In other business:

• On a motion by Dist. 3 Supervisor Derrell Washington and a second by Dist. 5 Supervisor Roosevelt Lee the county voted to purchase Chevrolet Tahoe trucks for supervisors.

The county did away with each supervisor having a truck when they went under the Unit System of government years ago. That change put county barns and road crews under the direction of a County Administrator and Road Department Administrator.

The trucks will be ordered using a reverse auction with the low bidder getting the sale.

• Supervisors discussed paying mileage at length after voting to buy trucks. Coahoma County only pays mileage for out-of-county trips, but the county paid mileage for Supervisor Lee earlier this year. This lead to a split vote on paying claims. Supervisors Newson, Lee, Washington and Dist. 2 Supervisor Pat Davis voted to pay claims. Dist. 1 Supervisor Paul Pearson voted against it.

• The board met with Sheriff Charles Jones about 4-wheeler on county roads, specifically streets in Jonestown. Board attorney Tom Ross said it is against the law for un-tagged vehicles of any kind to be on county roads.

Sheriff Jones said he has repeatedly told Jonestown city officials his department will investigate major crimes, but traffic issues and minor complaints must be handled by Jonestown police.