Another health care facility in Mississippi is in danger of shutting its doors.
KPC Promise Hospital in Vicksburg, a 35-bed long-term care facility, has leased space at Merit Health River Region’s main campus since 2018. But that lease is being terminated, as first reported by WJTV.
The hospital was behind on rent by $1 million as of January, said Dr. Torrance Green, KPC Promise’s medical director and a nephrologist. However, there was a pay schedule in place to bring the rent current, he said.
Since that January resolution, KPC Promise sent two checks to Merit in April and May, totaling $526,694 and paying off half of their debt, hospital officials said.
On the same day the last check was sent, the hospital got a notice from Merit demanding they vacate the premises by June 8, Green said.
“We were kind of taking care of things, and then we get this,” he said. “It’s very disappointing because we had finally stabilized ourselves and finances.”
Merit marketing director Alicia Carpenter confirmed that Merit plans to terminate the lease. She did not directly answer questions about the $526,694 payment, but said KPC Promise currently owes $1.5 million to Merit.
“KPC Promise Hospital, which has been leasing space on the hospital’s 6th floor, has been unable to fulfill its contractual obligations for more than a year,” she said in a statement. ”Prior to terminating the lease, we worked with KPC Promise for several months toward a mutually agreeable resolution.”
Carpenter’s statement to Mississippi Today said that Merit’s team will help identify facilities for affected patients who need long-term care, but their statement to WAPT said patients could be admitted at “two long-term care facilities in Jackson.” She did not answer questions about which two facilities those were.
The hospital’s status being in flux is already having an impact. At the time of the notice, Green said the hospital was serving a significant number of patients and had to start turning others away, forcing them to travel as far as Jackson for care.
“The biggest question for us is whether or not Merit is really invested in our community in a way that they want to maintain service,” Green said. “We saw what happened to Jackson and to the whole state of Mississippi when they called the burn unit … and here they are now, again, making decisions to curtail services. Where’s the accountability?”
Merit Health Central, citing challenges related to staffing and the pandemic, closed the state’s only burn center in October. The hospital reduced many of its services and moved others out of South Jackson to its facilities in the suburbs. The move left the state — and Mississippians who need burn care — scrambling to find another facility.
“The effects on the families and the community gets kind of lost,” Green said. “I think that what is sinister here is a repeated pattern.”
Merit Health, which operates nine facilities in Mississippi, is owned by Nashville-based Community Health Partners.
KPC Promise CEO Kerry Goff released a statement Thursday about the eviction notice. Goff took the helm of the hospital four months ago.
“We were completely shocked, dismayed, and blindsided by this development because Merit Health had previously agreed to a payment schedule for past rent,” he said. “Given the agreement that was in place and recent payments that had been made in good faith, this action appears to be nothing more than a profit-motivated money grab at the expense of important healthcare services our community depends on.”
Goff continued to say the hospital is looking into legal options and would do what it could to stay open.
Carpenter said in a statement that serving the community “with quality care” is Merit’s priority.
“We understand the importance of these services to the community which is why the hospital has worked for the last several months to reach a resolution for a situation that has been ongoing for more than a year,” she said. “There are multiple long-term care facilities in Jackson which patients from our area have relied on previously, including for two months last year when Promise was not able to accept admissions.”
Green said they’re hopeful they can come to a new agreement with Merit or that Merit will decide to honor the already-existing one. Otherwise, he’s not sure what’ll happen to the hospital and said it would be difficult to find another suitable space in Vicksburg or nearby that Merit doesn’t already own.
KPC Promise is the latest hospital showing signs of financial distress. Alliance Hospital in Holly Springs ended inpatient care weeks ago in an effort to keep its doors open, and Memorial Hospital in Gulfport announced layoffs this month. Ochsner Health System, which operates dozens of hospitals and clinics in Mississippi, last week slashed nearly 2% of its workforce.
Other hospital systems, particularly those in the Delta, are reducing services to stay open.
One report from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform puts a third of Mississippi’s rural hospitals at risk of closure, and half of those at risk of closing within a couple of years.
Following the news that the hospital could be forced to close, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley released a statement Wednesday placing the fault of the hospital crisis on incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.
Reeves has adamantly opposed expanding Medicaid, which research shows would bring in millions to Mississippi’s struggling hospitals.
“When Tate Reeves finally wakes up and realizes another hospital in this state has closed, he will only have himself to blame,” he said in a statement. “This healthcare crisis lies squarely at the feet of Tate Reeves, who has blocked Medicaid expansion, which has left hospitals across Mississippi scrambling to keep their lights on and 220,000 Mississippians without life-saving healthcare.”
Spokespeople for Reeves did not reply to requests for comment.
Kate Royals contributed to this report.
Editor’s note 5/19/2023: This story has been updated to include additional comments from Merit Health spokeswoman Alicia Carpenter.