2nd hospital to operate clinic at old Sack & Save|[05/28/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dr. Paul “Bill” Pierce IIIA senior Vicksburg physician will leave his position soon with the area’s largest health provider and open a new clinic headed by a company that runs hospitals and clinics in the Jackson area and across the state.

Dr. Paul “Bill” Pierce III, an internist at Vicksburg Clinic, operated by River Region Health System, will change his practice to Medical Associates of Vicksburg, a clinic that will offer an array of medical services, said Glen Silverman, chief operating officer at Central Mississippi Medical Center.

The new clinic will open offices in mid-July in the former Sack & Save, purchased in March by Houston developer Greg Mathis, after years of sitting vacant on South Frontage Road.

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Rumblings about change have been circulating for months, and Pierce, who was identified as a key leader during the merger of local hospitals and clinics to form River Region 14 years ago, has not responded to requests to talk about the coming change.

The former Sack & Save building on South Frontage Road (Suzanne Feliciano * The Vicksburg Post)It was also not confirmed whether any other physicians will have roles in the new clinic.

Diane Gawronski, director of marketing and public relations for River Region Health System, said Pierce will continue to provide services at Vicksburg’s only hospital, River Region Medical Center.

“Dr. Pierce has been a longtime member of the active medical staff at River Region Medical Center, and he will continue to do so,” she said. “We look forward to his continued care of patients in the Vicksburg community and at River Region.”

Mathis has not disclosed plans for the full 60,000-square-foot building, but Pam Powers of BrokerSouth Properties, who handled the sale, has said Mathis plans to transform the space into offices and, possibly, retail.

Pierce will be joined by nurse practitioner Michelle Banks and office manager Debby Runnels to, initially, offer primary-care services, such as internal medicine and family practice services, Silverman said. The clinic will be open during the day Monday through Friday with a possible expansion to after-hours and weekends, he added.

Pierce, named The Vicksburg Post’s 2007 Readers’ Choice Man of the Year, has been at the Vicksburg Clinic on North Frontage Road since 1975 and is one of about 10 doctors currently practicing there. Other River Region staff physicians are based at The Street Clinic on McAuley Drive at Grove Street and in the group’s hospital on U.S. 61 North.

River Region, now a property of Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems Inc., was previously owned by Dallas-based Triad and, before that, by Nashville-based Quorum. In addition to the larger clinics and the $123 million River Region Medical Center built in 2002, River Region affiliates and properties include the Family Medicine Clinic, Southern Orthopedic Clinic, Marian Hill and clinics in Port Gibson and Tallulah.

Pierce’s new clinic will be operated by Central Mississippi Medical Center, which is headed by Florida-based Health Management Associates, a company that operates nine other hospitals in Mississippi and eight clinics, according to its Web site. It also provides medical services in 14 other states.

In addition to CMMC, formerly Hinds General Hospital, the company is over River Oaks Hospital in Jackson, Biloxi Regional Medical Center and Riley Hospital in Meridian.

Silverman said Pierce and his staff will offer laboratory and X-ray services, CT scans, industrial medicine and workers compensation at the new clinic. Patients on Medicaid and Medicare will be accepted, but Silverman would not say whether Louisiana Medicaid patients, too, would be able to receive services. Letters were sent earlier this month to patients and physicians of River Region and its affiliates announcing the change, due to reimbursement rates remaining 50 percent less than rates paid to similar hospitals in Louisiana.

Pierce announced late last year that he had no plans of “slowing down at all.” Although the new clinic will not offer emergency services, he and his staff will make referrals to patients needing additional care.

Whether referrals will be made to CMMC-operated facilities or locally to River Region-owned or independently operated health services was not clear.

“Medical Associates of Vicksburg will offer patients a choice of options when it comes to specialty care and additional services,” Silverman said.

Pierce, a 1958 graduate of Carr Central High School, received a degree in civil engineering from Mississippi State University before serving in Korea in 1963 and 1964 with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He worked here with the Corps for three years and, later, attended a master’s program at Colorado State University. After pursuing a teaching career, he shifted his goals to become a physician, graduating from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson in 1972. After a three-year residency in Jackson, he came home to Vicksburg to practice.

One of his two sons, Paul Pierce IV, is a cardiologist at River Region. He said he currently does not have plans to move to his father’s clinic.

“I think the cardiologists over here will try to stay together,” he said this morning.

Pierce’s younger son, Sam Pierce, is also pursuing a career in medicine.

Historically, hospitals and clinics in Vicksburg had nonprofit charters and were privately owned, with the exception of the former Kuhn Memorial State Hospital, which lost state funding and closed in 1989. Vicksburg Hospital and Vicksburg Clinic were developed and owned by the physicians who practiced there, including Pierce, before the initial sale to a national, for-profit chain, Columbia HCA. The sale of Mercy Hospital-Street Memorial, which was owned by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy, and its affiliate Street Clinic, owned by the physicians, followed.