‘Business as usual’ after Claiborne hospital takeover

Published 11:28 am Friday, August 3, 2012

Business as usual should continue at Port Gibson’s local hospital — now known as Claiborne County Hospital — following its takeover last week by the Board of Supervisors after nearly two years of not receiving lease payments, the county administrator said Thursday.

Employees can expect paychecks today and the doors of the former Patients’ Choice Hospital are open to those needing medical care, County Administrator James Johnson said.

Claiborne County supervisors voted July 25 to take back the facility from Patient’s Choice, managed by Tupelo-based Rural Healthcare Developers Inc., which had leased the facility since October 2008. RHC had been in arrears in their payments since August, 2010, Johnson said.

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Jefferson County Hospital CEO Jerry Kennedy has been retained to act as administrative consultant, Johnson said.

“The county, Rural Healthcare Development and Jerry Kennedy are working to make this transition as seamless as possible and provide care to the patients at the hospital,” said Johnson.

About $869,000 is owed to the county, Johnson said.

Claiborne County’s Chancery Clerk Gloria Dotson had sent a number of letters to RHC chief Ray Shoemaker requesting payment, said Johnson. Not receiving payment, supervisors voted in May to terminate the lease agreement, but until last week had not filed injunctions or eviction notices, he said.

In addition to retaining Kennedy, board actions last week included taking out property insurance and obtaining a restraining order against RHC.

Sheriff Marvin Lucas said his deputies assisted with making sure computers and other equipment were not removed from the building.

Going forward, all operations at the facility will become the county’s responsibility for the time being.

“The current pay period is expected to be the responsibility of Rural Healthcare Developers,” Johnson said, estimating staffing levels at about 100 full-time-equivalent positions. “With the county taking it forward, the assumption is the county is going to look at developing a plan of action, with the assistance of a consultant, to pay them.”

The hospital’s license has not yet been transferred, and during what is expected to be a two-week transition, RHD staff is continuing to provide some assistance, Johnson said.

“They are cooperating to an extent,” he said. “They are also making arrangements to transfer out of the hospital.”

In addition to the money owed Claiborne County, RHD chief Ray Shoemaker was found guilty March 2 in U.S. District Court in Oxford of 10 counts related to kickbacks and bribery while an executive at Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville and embezzling $250,000 from the hospital in April 2006. Shoemaker has reportedly maintained his innocence and vowed to appeal the conviction. He has not yet been sentenced.

According to the Patients’ Choice website, the hospital is a “25-bed critical access facility that provides acute care and emergency services; (and) inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services. Other outpatient programs include respiratory and physical therapy.”

It is not yet clear what supervisors will decide long term. Hiring a management company or leasing the hospital again are options, Johnson said.

“In leasing, the county is not responsible for making ends meet; that is up to the lessee. The hospital is turned over lock, stock and barrel to the operating company,” he said. “If it is managed, if hospital revenues do not meet hospital expenses, the county is on the hook to meet those expenses.”