River Region, others form own health system

Published 10:09 am Thursday, January 29, 2015

NEW SIGNAGE: A sign in front of River Region Medical Center displays the Merit Health logo. (Justin Sellers / The Vicksburg Post)

NEW SIGNAGE: A sign in front of River Region Medical Center displays the Merit Health logo. (Justin Sellers / The Vicksburg Post)

Health care in Vicksburg, Jackson and northeast Louisiana got a new name this month but apparently will stay under the same corporate umbrella.

River Region Medical Center, along with five other hospitals and 36 affiliated clinics purchased a year ago by the local hospital’s parent company, Community Health Systems, have formed Merit Health as signs in front of each facility were to be replaced before events planned Feb. 9 at each member hospital.

A sign at the U.S. 61 North hospital’s main entrance was changed from the lighted path logo in place for 13 years and replaced with a green and black logo. Earlier this month, employee ID badges were replaced and insurance plans were switched over to reflect the move, which came without formal announcement until marketing officials here and at CHS’ home office in Franklin, Tenn. were reached.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“Ownership of the hospitals and related clinics remains the same,” said Jana Fuss, marketing director at Central Mississippi Medical Center and listed on a release Wednesday as director of communications for Merit Health.

“By coming together under this new structure, we will create new opportunities to expand services in primary care, medical and surgical sub-specialties, and to leverage our investments in recruiting new physicians to the market,” a spokesperson for Merit Health, Tobey Houston, said in the  release.

No changes to services or physician bases were planned in the short term, said Jana Fuss, director of communications for Central Mississippi Medical Center, which becomes Merit Health Central in the new arrangement. The Merit name will also precede River Oaks Hospital and Woman’s Hospital, in Flowood, Crossgates River Oaks Hospital, in Brandon, and Madison River Oaks Medical Center in Canton. The six have more than 1,200 licensed beds, including 372 at River Region, 3,300 employees and 1,800 active physicians.

Final touches on a $13.2 million, 63,000 square-foot annex building on the front lawn of River Region will continue as planned and will house physician practices and outpatient services, Fuss said. Slated to be done by May, it is expected to absorb services moving out of River Region West and The Street Clinic, plus a few from the main campus. Those include pediatrics, sports medicine, pain management, urology and rheumatology.

Wednesday’s announcement capped off an active year for River Region and its parent firm.

It began with the acquisition of Health Management Associates Inc. The $7.6 billion deal added 71 facilities to CHS’ portfolio of properties, including 10 in Mississippi. It took in Medical Associates of Vicksburg, which had been operated by CMMC and had begun in 2008 as a breakaway from River Region by its founding physicians. The sale closed in January, and ground was broken on the new annex a month later.

In July, then-interim CEO Greg Pearson was elevated to the job on a permanent basis, while former chief executive Doug Sills was named market chief for CHS’ newly acquired Jackson holdings. Two months later, the chain announced a breach of its databases resulted in the theft of personal information for five years worth of its patients nationwide. CHS put the total of those affected at 4.5 million. Class action lawsuits resulted in three states over the breach, including Mississippi.

Between Oct. 1 and Jan. 2, the chain added two hospitals, Natchez Regional Medical Center, plucked from bankruptcy, and Gaffney Medical Center, in South Carolina. During the same time frame, plans were announced to sell off four others, in Alabama, Texas, Arkansas and South Carolina.

Friday, CHS said it had purchased 80 percent interest of Metro Health hospital in suburban Grand Rapids, Mich. The announcement came two days after announcing it expected net operating revenues for 2014 of about $18.6 billion, up from $12.8 billion in 2013.

River Region was created in 2002 from the merger of ParkView Regional Medical Center and Vicksburg Medical Center. The hospital’s main patient load is pulled from counties and Louisiana parishes along the Mississippi River, the South Delta and western Hinds County.

Events Feb. 9 at River Region begin at 11 a.m. and will feature appearance from unspecified.