The city of Greenwood and Leflore County have put up a total of $9 million in a last-minute effort to save Greenwood Leflore Hospital, a key health care provider and economic engine for the Delta.
The financially struggling hospital has been negotiating with the University of Mississippi Medical Center over a lease agreement since the summer. A key sticking point in the talks was Greenwood Leflore’s outstanding debts to Medicare and the funds necessary for deferred maintenance on hospital facilities. UMMC did not want to be responsible for those costs after any transition.
But now, Greenwood and Leflore County have each approved a $4.5 million letter of credit, for a total of $9 million in local financial support to pave the way for UMMC to take over hospital operations.
With negotiations stalled, UMMC told Greenwood Leflore they would not be able to complete lease agreement documents in time for the year’s last scheduled meeting of the Institutions of Higher Learning, which needs to approve any agreement, the Greenwood Commonwealth reported earlier this week. Interim CEO Gary Marchand told hospital employees in a memo Tuesday that the hospital will need to make additional cuts in order to stay open through the end of the year, and it still may have to close its doors before then.
The funding from the city and county doesn’t on its own speed up the timeline for a resolution, but it does appear to remove a barrier to an eventual agreement.
Leflore County Supervisor and Board President Robert Collins told Mississippi Today that hospital leadership had made bad decisions for years, like excessively expensive contracts with physicians, redundant administrative positions, and too many staff for the number of patients they were serving.
“We just could never get a meeting with them to sit down and talk about it,” Collins said of the hospital. “The situation’s been going down here for the last 10 years or more … We had a consultant come and tell us four years ago, if we stayed on the course that we was on, we’d be broke in four years, and they were right.”
But the hospital is so critical to its community that Collins said his support for the funding was an obvious choice. People who don’t have transportation need a health care facility nearby, and people without insurance can rely on the hospital for critical care. If the hospital were to close, people might wind up being airlifted to Memphis.
“And if they do have to have a helicopter ride, they’ll be in debt the rest of their lives,” Collins said. “It’s just so important that we have health care here in Greenwood, Mississippi.”
Marchand told hospital employees in a memo Friday morning, before the county supervisors met and approved a letter of credit for the hospital, that the city had approved “a funding commitment” to support the lease agreement with UMMC.
“With sufficient funding in place to resolve several key challenges, we will be meeting with UMMC’s Executive Leadership to assess the status of our negotiations and the potential for a transaction date in early 2023,” he wrote.
The hospital said it would make decisions on service cuts and other potential cost-saving measures by next week.
Though the last scheduled meeting of the IHL board in 2022 is Nov. 17, UMMC could ask the board to hold a special meeting to approve any agreement with Greenwood Leflore. That would allow the board to vote as soon as the agreement is ready, rather than waiting until January. But Patrice Guilfoyle, communications director for the hospital, said there are no plans to do that.
When Mississippi Today followed up to ask why not, spokesman Marc Rolph said, “We have no comment on that question.”
Collins said he wants to make sure local leaders understand what services UMMC plans to maintain if it does take over Greenwood Leflore. County leaders have a Zoom call scheduled with UMMC next week, he said, the first time they’ll talk directly with the prospective new operator.
“We welcome UMC,” he said. “We welcome them to come. We just want to make sure that we have an opportunity to sit down and talk with them.”
The letter of credit approved by the county does not specify that UMMC must be the entity that takes over Greenwood Leflore and could be used to support an agreement with any partner.