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Selling the Hospital: Judge Says Natchez Hospital Can Sell After Eight Hour Hearing

By John Mott Coffey, with News Mississippi affiliate WQNZ

NATCHEZ, Miss.–The judge overseeing the bankrupt Natchez Regional Medical Center’s sale is allowing its transfer to new owners as expected Wednesday.

This ends NRMC’s 54 years as a public hospital with hopes its new corporate owner can revive the community’s health care services.

After a hearing lasting about eight hours Monday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Neil Olack confirmed the purchase agreement between the Adams County Board of Supervisors and Community Health Systems, the country’s largest for-profit hospital chain with 206 facilities.

“The bottom line is the sale being proposed is the only viable option?” U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Neil Olack asked as he heard testimony that the financially destitute hospital would close if not sold. It appears “to have given me no other choice” but to allow the sale, he said.

CHS will now own Natchez’ two hospitals. The Tennessee-based company bought Natchez Community Hospital in January as part of a corporate takeover of Health Management Associates.

CHS is paying $10 million for the county-owned hospital and $8 million in prepaid property taxes due to the county and Natchez for the next 17 years.

More importantly, said NRMC attorney Walter Brown, CHS will preserve the hospital’s 300 jobs.

“The good news is all the (Natchez Regional) employees will stay in place except for a few top-level management,” Brown said.

He also said CHS will consolidate NRMC and NCH into one hospital. The company has not disclosed yet what its plans are for the  two hospitals, which employ a total of about 600 people. It’s uncertain what downsizing could be involved in consolidating duplicating services.

The NRMC sale will give Adams County the revenues to repay a $14 million bank loan, but the hospital’s others debts won’t be paid in full, according to the bankruptcy settlement reached with creditors.

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