|By Billy Davis
Top hospital bidder Dr. Bob Corkern has the funding in place to purchase the publicly-owned facility and is ready to close the deal, a Tri-Lakes spokesman said this week.
The sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center could occur this morning at a meeting set for 10:30, parties involved in the sale said late this week.
Monday, October 3 is the scheduled closing date for the sale of Tri-Lakes. That date is also the "first Monday" meeting of the county supervisors, and the owners and buyers were scheduled to meet jointly at that county meeting to finalize the deal.
That meeting could prove unnecessary, however, since the joint meeting has been rescheduled for today.
Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins said Thursday morning that Corkern’s lender, UPS Bank, is urging the 10:30 meeting before the new fiscal year, which comes Saturday.
If all the necessary paperwork is in place, Perkins said, the Friday meeting could conclude with a final signature that closes the sale of Tri-Lakes.
"Right now nobody really knows what’s going to happen, but the sale could be done by Friday," Perkins said, attributing the fluid situation to last-minute work by attorneys for all sides.
Ray Shoemaker, chief operating officer at Tri-Lakes, made the announcement this week that Corkern has the financial backing to purchase the public-owned hospital.
The COO made the announcement at a public forum held Tuesday evening in the hospital’s cafeteria.
"The money has been funded (for the purchase)," Shoemaker said.
At the public forum, Shoemaker told a half-dozen hospital employees and two representatives of The Panolian that money for Corkern’s purchase has been committed by financier UPS Bank.
"The letter of credit is on my desk," the chief operating officer said.
Corkern, who did not attend the Tuesday forum, is presently the administrator at Tri-Lakes. He is set to pay about $22.5 million for the main hospital and another $3 million for the west campus, the former hospital site that is now a behavioral clinic.
Corkern is seeking to purchase Tri-Lakes through a non-profit company, Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group, and is working through the Jackson office of Rural Development to guarantee the UPS Bank loan.
Rural Development is a federal agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
All necessary paperwork has been signed and filed by the agency, Nick Walters, state director of Rural Development, said Wednesday.
"We’ve inked the deal," he said.
The director said Rural Development utilized a Guaranteed Community Facilities Loan to back Corkern’s purchase. The agency guarantees 90 percent of the loan, he said.
Corkern had originally sought to purchase Tri-Lakes through his for-profit company, Physicians and Surgeons, LLC. The doctor’s apparent switch in plans went unannounced until Perkins disclosed the news at the August 25 joint meeting.
Perkins had learned of the non-profit purchase from the Rural Development office in Batesville, and his surprise announcement caught most of the parties by surprise.
The owners and buyers are seemingly close to finalizing the sale, an arrival that would come after a two-year bumpy ride of political maneuvering, finger pointing, and coy business strategies.
The "bumpy ride" since January includes:
||In January the Batesville board of aldermen and Panola board of supervisors began replacing the hospital’s board of trustees over accusations that they were "too close" to Corkern as he competed for the winning bid.
||The owners returned a sale contract to Corkern in April with obvious changes, saying the language he inserted in his counter proposal would allow him to keep the $500,000 earnest payment should the sale fall through.
"Dr. Corkern wanted the opportunity to get his money back, but if you can get your money back you don’t have anything at risk," board of supervisors attorney Bill McKenzie said at the time.
The earnest money payment has been a key issue throughout the negotiations. The owners once expected a $4 million earnest payment, which Corkern later said he never promised, and both sides finally agreed to $500,000.
Also in that sale contract, the owners complained that Corkern’s counter proposal "backs away from the medical care currently provided" at Tri-Lake. Those provisions in the contract sought by Corkern were denied.
||Corkern has also requested to use the hospital’s west campus as collateral for his purchase of the main facility.
Owners balked at the proposal.
At the Tuesday public forum, a reporter asked Shoemaker why Corkern’s for-profit company is still listed with the state Secretary of State’s office as a limited liability company despite applying through Rural Development as a non-profit.
In Mississippi, corporations are required to file paperwork with the Business Services department about the status of their operation. A for-profit company must dissolve its for-profit status, for example, before declaring its non-profit status.
Responding to the question, Shoemaker said a separate non-profit company with a similar title, Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group, is also on file with Business Services in addition to Corkern’s business.
According to the state Web site, a Physicians and Surgeons Group is in fact listed as a non-profit corporation, with Shoemaker listed as its president.
The Business Services listing of Hospital Group includes Shoemaker and additional officers yet doesn’t include Corkern ? the apparent hospital purchaser ? among its owners and officers.
Reached Wednesday morning, Shoemaker said Corkern is not listed as an officer in the non-profit corporation due to conflict of interest rules.
"(Dr. Corkern) will be the manager selected by the not-for-profit, which means he doesn’t have to be an officer," Shoemaker said. "In fact, he can’t be both. He’s elected to purchase the hospital for the not-for-profit."
Shoemaker said the additional officers’ names, meanwhile, are listed incorrectly in the paperwork and are not set to be co-owners of Tri-Lakes.
Additional officers and directors of the non-profit Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group are Vice President Baxter Swearengen, secretary Mary Hoskas and treasurer Nanetta Shoemaker. Mark Schiff is listed as incorporator of the corporation.
All parties but Schiff, who is from Wisconsin, are listed as Batesville residents.
"The only officer in there (the corporation) right now is me," Shoemaker said. "The others are not supposed to be included.
"There is just some paperwork that probably needs to be caught up, not from our stand point but by the secretary of state’s office," the COO said.
In paperwork filed with Rural Development, only Shoemaker and Missy Hutto, a Corkern partner, are listed as officers of Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group, meaning Shoemaker and Hutto will be the new owners of Tri-Lakes.