Greenwood Leflore Hospital, Greenwood, Miss. Friday, August, 26, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

University of Mississippi Medical Center officials on Friday said negotiations to take over the struggling Greenwood Leflore Hospital have ended, and an agreement is not possible. 

Without an agreement with UMMC, the hospital could close before the end of the year. 

“Despite the best efforts of all parties involved, it has become clear to us that an agreement between the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Greenwood Leflore Hospital will not be possible,” said Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs at UMMC. 

He said an agreement is not possible due to several factors, the primary one being “the current realities of health care economics that all health systems are facing in this challenging environment.” 

Greenwood City Council President Ronnie Stevenson told Mississippi Today that UMMC’s decision came as a shock when he learned about it around lunch time on Friday. 

UMMC and Greenwood Leflore had been in talks over a potential partnership agreement since the summer. Greenwood Leflore’s interim CEO Gary Marchand told staff last week that any agreement would not be ready before early 2023, despite earlier hopes of completing the process by the end of the year. 

The Greenwood City Council and Leflore County Board of Supervisors, the joint owners of the hospital, voted last week to put up nearly $10 million to cover outstanding Medicare debts and deferred maintenance costs that UMMC said it did not want to shoulder if it took over operations. 

“I am very disappointed in their decision,” Stevenson said. “They have held us up for months, thinking this was going to go through, and we as a city and a county met all their demands or agreed to meet all their demands, and for them to pull out at the last minute, leaving us dry like this — it’s just difficult to digest right now.”

Stevenson said local leaders are not aware of another potential partner to operate the hospital. 

“We did not have a Plan B,” he said. “But we’ve got to go find one.”

In the meantime, the hospital will likely have to keep cutting jobs and services in an effort to keep the doors open as long as possible, he said. 

Leflore County Board of Supervisors President Robert Collins said in a statement that the supervisors had “always been concerned” that a deal between UMMC and the Greenwood Leflore Hospital would not go through. 

“Understanding that we are not healthcare experts we have retained the consulting services of Samuel Odle and (sic) experienced healthcare executive,” the statement said. “Mr. Odle’s role is to view the situation and advise the Supervisors and Community on feasible options for maintain (sic) healthcare in our community.”

Odle, a senior policy advisor at Bose Public Affairs Group previously led hospitals in Indiana, where he is based.

Marchand told employees on Friday morning that the hospital would lay off up to 80 employees to reduce costs as negotiations with UMMC continued. The memo contained no indication that the partnership agreement had been taken off the table. 

A press release from Greenwood Leflore Hospital suggests the decision came as a surprise to hospital officials. 

“Although we certainly can understand and appreciate the challenge of providing healthcare services in the post-pandemic era, this decision was not expected based on the progress that had been made regarding a lease transaction,” the statement said. “The financial realities of providing healthcare services are impacting both organizations.” 

When asked whether the state would step in to help the hospital, Lt. Gov. Hosemann said he is disappointed the parties couldn’t reach an agreement.

“The financial issues facing healthcare are becoming universal in our state. We need a universal plan to address them,” he said in a statement to Mississippi Today. 

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn did not immediately respond Friday afternoon. State lawmakers traveled to Jackson this week for a special session to pass a $246 million tax incentive deal to help an out-of-state corporation expand operations in the state. Gov. Tate Reeves, who focused his public comments this week on the project’s job creation, did not include policies for rural hospital closures or any other pressing needs the state faces in his special session call.

Officials from both hospitals said they will continue discussing physician services in Greenwood and Leflore County, including UMMC’s operation of a general pediatrics clinic and an OB-GYN clinic. UMMC will soon also run an internal medicine and primary care clinic in the area. 

“We will continue to evaluate other opportunities as they arise in order to maintain some health care services in the community,” said Jones. 

Stevenson said the hospital is critical to Greenwood and Leflore County. 

“This community needs a hospital,” he said. “We don’t want to have to rush to Jackson … We want to save lives here, and having a community hospital will save lives.”

More than half of Mississippi’s rural hospitals are at risk of closure, new data from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform shows. The state has the largest number of rural hospitals at immediate risk of closure in the nation at 24. 

Since 2005, five rural hospitals in Mississippi have closed.

State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney alluded to the ongoing threat to Greenwood Leflore Hospital during the state board of health meeting last month, when he described health care infrastructure in the Delta as “very fragile” and said at least six hospitals in the region are facing dire financial challenges. At the time, negotiations between UMMC and Greenwood Leflore appeared to be on track. 

“Despite what’s been reported in the media, currently there are no solutions for those hospitals,” he said. “No one’s coming to the rescue.”

Editor’s note: Kate Royals, Mississippi Today’s community health editor since January 2022, worked as a writer/editor for UMMC’s Office of Communications from November 2018 through August 2020, writing press releases and features about the medical center’s schools of dentistry and nursing. 

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.

Isabelle, an Atlanta native, covers health as part of Mississippi Today’s community health team. Prior to joining Mississippi Today, she was a reporter for the Biloxi Sun Herald and a Report for America corps member.