Claiborne hospital getting new management|[2/16/05]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Claiborne County Hospital will be under new management in a trial agreement that officials hope will attract more patients through improved efficiency and service.

Management of the public hospital in Port Gibson will be performed by Southwest Health Systems of McComb beginning March 1, SHS chief executive Norman Price said.

“We’re going to go in and see that it’s efficient because one of the things that makes good hospitals good hospitals is that they’re efficient,” Price said.

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Price said patients will quickly notice changes in timeliness of treatments and whether their meals are warm when served.

The hospital is county-owned and has not had enough patients to be financially viable, Board of Supervisors President Charles Shorts said. The hospital has struggled and supervisors have searched for a solution for about 15 years, county administrator James Miller said.

The trend follows a practice of many other Mississippi counties with public hospitals that have hired private management firms or sold public hospitals outright. Not all counties have public hospitals. Warren County, for example, has had no public institution since the closure of Kuhn Memorial State Hospital in 1989.

“Sometimes the hospital has one or two patients,” Shorts said, adding that with a patient count of six or eight the hospital could be “operating on its own.”

The hospital has 32 beds, operates on an annual budget of about $5 million and receives a $200,000 subsidy from the Claiborne County government, said Wanda Fleming, who has been the hospital’s administrator for about 15 years.

Instead of a subsidy, the agreement with SHS calls for the county to fund renovations and management expenses of up to $3,000 a month, Price said.

Port Gibson has enough people to support keeping the hospital, Price said. “We’re there to try to encourage people to use it, and we think we can do that,” Price said.

SHS has managed Lawrence County Hospital in Monticello since October 2001 and it will serve as the model to turn around Claiborne County Hospital, Price said.

“We hadn’t been thinking about the 90 miles distance,” Price said of the distance between McComb and Port Gibson. “Since the success story in Lawrence County we have received calls from all over Mississippi from rural hospitals” interested in how SHS achieved its turnaround there, where the hospital has 25 beds and the town about 1,726 residents.

Much of the funding for many small, rural hospitals comes from the federal government through Medicare and Medicaid. Late last year the Claiborne County Hospital acquired a designation that allows it to receive more money from those programs for many patients. It was accredited as a Critical Access Hospital, making it eligible for reimbursement at the actual cost of treatment of a patient instead of lower rates usually paid by government programs, Fleming said. The Lawrence County Hospital received the same accreditation months after it was placed under SHS’ management.

Under the new arrangement, no changes are planned for the existing management and staff of the hospital, Price said.

“We’re going to go in and teach the employees there our system and start there,” Price said. “We will arrive with expertise March 1 and start to work training and redirection.”

The first things SHS will look at are those “directly associated and linked to patient care,” Price said. Cosmetic changes will be last on the list, he added.

“We want to make sure that the physicians are being given what they need to practice,” Price said.

One of four doctors who practice in Port Gibson and plan to use the hospital, Dr. David Headley, said he was aware of SHS’ success in Lawrence County.

“I think that anything that would help us become profitable and get us off the (county) taxpayers would be great,” Headley said.

Some patients, especially those who are privately insured, choose hospitals in Vicksburg, Natchez and Jackson.

“Some of our physical facility itself is below standard,” Headley said, adding that the fact that some rooms do not have private bathrooms has been unpopular with some patients. “Who wants to stay there if you can stay somewhere else?”

If both sides agreed after the six-month trial period, SHS could continue to operate the hospital under a lease agreement, Price said. In the meantime, among the changes SHS is considering making is to the name of the facility, to Port Gibson Medical Center. “We think the community needs a viable hospital – needs and deserves it,” Price said.