Dr. Pierce moving today; patients say they’re ready|[07/09/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wherever Dr. Paul “Bill” Pierce III goes, his patients say they’ll follow.

At least that’s the case for Ben Butler, Donna Thornton and Ruth Miller, all of whom have been receiving medical care from him since about the time he came home to practice medicine here 33 years ago.

“It doesn’t matter a bit to me where he is. If he went on a mission, I’d go there to see him,” Butler said. “He’s been mighty good to us.”

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Today, Pierce will close the door to his practice at Vicksburg Clinic on North Frontage Road, where he has been since 1975.

It’s not just a change for Pierce, who has not personally disclosed a reason for leaving River Region Health System. When he opens his new practice, Medical Associates of Vicksburg, at 8 a.m. Monday, another large provider enters the Vicksburg health-care market.

“We sent 8,265 letters” to patients for whom Pierce has records on file, said Debby Runnels, office manager at the new clinic. “People are already calling getting appointments. They’re all excited to see the new office. It’s something new and beautiful.” She said Pierce sees about 360 patients per week.

Runnels said the decision to open the new clinic was to “give patients more of a choice.” Pierce will also bring in nurse practitioner Michelle Banks.

“He felt like patients needed to have a choice and more of a variety of patient care,” she said.

The new, 8,000-square-foot space in a former supermarket on South Frontage Road will feature 12 exam rooms, as opposed to the eight at his former practice; a laboratory; X-ray and bone density services, which were not offered before; CT scans; a lounge area; and a “much bigger” nurse’s station, Runnels said.

“I think our patients will like it,” she said. “Everything can be done right here.”

Medical Associates of Vicksburg will be operated by Central Mississippi Medical Center, located in west Jackson and headed by Florida-based Health Management Associates. In addition to CMMC, HMA operates nine other hospitals in Mississippi and about eight clinics.

Patients needing mammograms will be referred to River Region Medical Center on U.S. 61 North, whose Women’s Diagnostic Imaging Center is touted as one of the best in the area, Runnels said. For hospitalization, Pierce’s patients locally will use River Region if they choose. He, like most other private practice physicians in the area, has staff privileges there. Pierce also will admit patients to CMMC, depending on services needed.

“That’s another way of giving patients a choice,” Runnels said.

Thornton, who has been Pierce’s patient for 30 years, said she looks forward to the accessibility of services.

“I’m looking forward to being able to go there and get everything done in one spot,” she said.

In addition to Vicksburg Clinic on North Frontage Road, River Region Health System owns other multispeciality clinics, Family Medicine Clinic and The Street Clinic. It also owns Marian Hill, a chemical dependency center, Southern Orthopedic Clinic and has clinics in Port Gibson and Tallulah. The company is now headed by Community Health Systems Inc. of Franklin, Tenn. The organization’s affiliates own or operate 110 hospitals in 28 states.

Connie Jenkins, one of two practice managers with CMMC who will work as a liaison between the company and the clinic, said the company is excited about moving into the Vicksburg market.

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to come out here. We were looking to reach out to other cities, and the opportunity presented itself,” she said. “We’re very excited and look forward to expanding.”

Thornton said having competition will be good for everyone.

“I have nothing against the hospital. The hospital has been wonderful,” she said. “Competition is the best thing for business. I look forward to it.”

Other medical offerings are anticipated at the former Sack & Save, a 67,000-square-foot building. The building, purchased in March by Houston developer Greg Mathis, is getting new life as a medical mall. A second, 8,000-square-foot phase, which will mirror the already constructed area and share its waiting room, will potentially include a pharmacy, rehabilitative services and an office for DME, or durable medical equipment. At least one other River Region physician is expected to join the mall in its second phase, but officials have not released a name.

The second phase is planned for the fall, Runnels said, and other tenants will continue to fill the space.

“We’re hoping to see the building full in the next 12 to 18 months – with our people or whoever,” she said.

Medical Associates of Vicksburg will employ more than 20 people, which includes Pierce’s existing staff of 17 and additional employees to run the new equipment. Clinic hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday and 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday. Runnels said they hope to expand the hours once additional staff comes on board.

Seventy-five-year-old Ruth Miller has been seeing Pierce about once a month for as long as she can remember. She also took her seven children to see him over the years, she said. Having him in a different location doesn’t make much difference to her – as long as she can see the doctor, she said.

“I’m ready to go,” she said. “It won’t be a problem (changing locations). I used to go to Sack & Save all the time.”

Thornton said she, too, welcomes the change.

“Wherever Dr. Pierce goes, we will follow. He’s one of a kind – the definition of an internist. He’s all about preventive measures and treats you and the symptoms – the whole picture. And, he cares,” she said.