Headlines – 11/22/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – November 22, 2005

  From the 11/22/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

"It’s sold:" Tri-Lakes now in private hands
     Rural Development state director Nick Walters (second from left) writes a ceremonial check worth $27.3 million for the purchase of Tri-Lakes Medical Center to Physicians and Surgeons Group, represented by Dr. Bob Corkern (second from right). The public-owned hospital became private property Friday, November 18. Pictured with Walters and Corkern are District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant (far left) and Johnny Shell, Rural Development area director.
By Billy Davis

In a hospital foyer crowded with hospital employees and dignitaries, Tri-Lakes Chief Financial Officer Ray Shoemaker jumped atop a table Friday morning and exclaimed, "We did it!," pumping his arms in victory.

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What Shoemaker has done is purchase public-owned Tri-Lakes Medical Center, bringing the hospital under private control of the non-profit organization that he leads as president, Physicians and Surgeons Group.

After a two-month paperwork shuffle between lawyers for the owners and buyers, a pair of warranty deeds announcing the sale of the main hospital and its west campus were recorded Friday afternoon at 4:20 and 4:23 by Panola Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock.

Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins said county attorney Bill McKenzie called him about 4:45 p.m. Friday to announce that the last amount of monies had been wired to the hospital owners, the City of Batesville and the county.

"As far as I’m concerned, it’s sold," said Perkins.
The main campus, located east of Interstate 55, sold for $22.5 million, an amount that was split 60/40 between the county and the city respectively.
The hospital’s west campus behavioral clinic, which is its original site, sold for $3 million. That money was wired solely to the county.

The sale of Tri-Lakes caps a tedious process that began in the fall of 2003 with plans by its owners, the City of Batesville and Panola County, to finally get out of the hospital business.

The plan to sell Tri-Lakes climaxed last year when 83 percent of residents in the South Panola hospital district voted to sell the facility in a special November referendum.

The Friday event at the hospital featured Rural Development state director Nick Walters, whose federal agency has guaranteed 90 percent of the $27.3 million loan that Physicians and Surgeons acquired from financier UPS Bank.

Rural Development, an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture, is backing 90 percent of the UPS Bank loan to the non-profit Physicians and Surgeons.

Walters presented a ceremonial check made out for $27.3 million dollars to Shoemaker and Dr. Bob Corkern, the hospital administrator.

Walters told the gathered crowd that the loan guarantee fulfills the vision of Rural Development to help improve healthcare in rural communities. The agency’s work with Physicians and Surgeons follows similar projects at hospitals in Tallahatchie and Yalobusha counties, he said.

"No community is going to grow when the school systems aren’t up to snuff and when the healthcare isn’t up to snuff," Walters said.

Physicians and Surgeons is a for-profit limited liability company headed solely by Corkern, but the similar-named non-profit applied for the Rural Development loan guarantee with Shoemaker as its head.

The switch was made public in August at a public board meeting when Perkins disclosed that Physicians and Surgeons was seeking the loan as as a not-for-profit company.

Despite Corkern’s constant presence as the face of hospital purchase, he technically is not listed as an officer with the non-profit Physicians and Surgeons.
Per Rural Development rules, Shoemaker has said, Corkern could not be an officer with the non-profit 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 told The Panolian in September. "In fact, he can’t be both. He’s elected to purchase the hospital for the not-for-profit."

At the Friday event, Corkern followed Walters’ remarks, saying the now-private hospital is setting its sights on establishing a "regional medical center-level of service" in the Panola County area.

"That is our goal. That is where we are headed," Corkern said. "For all those who doubt it, you can doubt it. We’ve heard many times this day would never come, and here it is."

In an interview following the ceremony, Corkern said a main goal for Tri-Lakes is to attain accreditation through the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).
"We have been subsidizing Baptist in Oxford and Baptist in DeSoto (County) for many years," Corkern said. "We are going to provide those services here."

The contract signed this summer by the buyer and seller spelled out provisions for the accreditation process as well as other healthcare issues.

"The contract says five years, but we’ll do it in less than that," Corkern said after the ceremony.

In fact, however, the contract requires the buyer to "seek and obtain" accreditation within two years of the closing date, which was Friday.

Additional provisions of the contract include:

Comply with all state and federal charity care laws regarding emergency care for patients unable to pay;
Hire all hospital employees on the closing date, offer them pay and benefits at least at the level they now earn, and maintain workforce numbers for a year after the closing date;
Establish a board of advisors to provide counsel about the delivery of healthcare and services.

"The contract basically says (Corkern) has to maintain the hospital’s services at the level it is now or better," said Perkins regarding the contract.

A press release sent out last week by Rural Development states the $27 million loan guarantee is the largest ever made in Mississippi through the agency’s program.

Parade scheduled
Batesville Lions Club is encouraging churches, clubs, youth groups, marching groups, businesses and industries to participate in this year’s Batesville Christmas Parade, scheduled for Tuesday, December 6 at 6:30 p.m.

The theme for this year’s parade is "Home For Christmas" with the scheduled route to take its usual course lining up on Watt Street heading down Broadway, around the Downtown Square to College Street.

Perennial Christmas parade chairman and Lions Club member Jerry Lightsey promises that once again Santa Claus will be present for the annual parade.

Steelmatic brings jobs to Sardis

By John Howell Sr.

Steelmatic Wire will soon be producing its zinc-coated wire products in a Sardis industrial building constructed in 1997 to allow for expansion of Air Kontrol.

The good news that Steelmatic had selected the site for a new manufacturing facility is compounded for Sardis taxpayers. Via city government, they have been making payments on the facility – $70,000 a year – since Air Kontrol’s demise shortly after the building was completed.

The facility is located just off Highway 51 across from the North Panola School District Office.

"A lot of our business is in the U.S.," said Steelmatic Wire’s Paul Orlando. The Mississippi move places them "close to one of our largest customers," he added. Steelmatic was founded four years ago in Toronto, Ontario, he said.

"I’d like to express my appreciation to Sonny Simmons and his group," Sardis Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said, referring to the Panola Partnership and its director. "Sonny was a lot of help on this project."

"It’s been a cooperative effort," Simmons said.

A section of the large metal building’s north wall had been removed and a gravel ramp constructed to allow large truck trailers access to offload the manufacturing equipment used in the firm’s production. The zinc-coated wire has many applications, including nails, staples and coat hangers, Orlando said.

Steelmatic also uses a galfan coating process to coat steel that is eventually shaped into automobile windshield wipers, he added.

The representative of the Canadian-based business said that he located the Sardis site first through a Tennessee Valley Authority Web site. He had visited sites in Tennessee, Alabama and Iuka before selecting the Sardis site. The location places him near the river ports at Rosedale and Memphis, through which the company will receive its raw material, and also less than two hours from its biggest customer, Orlando continued.

The manufacturing process used recirculates its liquid with very little discharge, Orlando said. "It’s not conventional galvanizing; there’s no acid, no zinc tanks. It’s green friendly," he added.

Steelmatic hopes to begin production in early spring. Initially 15 workers will be hired through Batesville’s WIN Job Center and trained through a Northwest Mississippi Community College program.
The location to Sardis was facilitated through a $150,000 grant from the Mississippi Development Authority’s Rural Impact Authority. The grant money will be used for infrastructure modification in the building, Simmons said.

Run-off election under way today
By Billy Davis

Panola County voters will return to the polls today to elect a new sheriff.

Voters will choose from two sheriff’s department employees, jail administrator Hugh "Shot" Bright and Chief Deputy Craig Sheley.

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The runoff between Bright and Sheley comes two weeks after about 9,000 voters narrowed an 11-man field to the final two candidates.

Throughout the sheriff’s race Sheley, 37, has defended the department against accusations that deputies are slow to respond to calls.

The average response time is 20 minutes, he has said in recent weeks.

"I feel like the sheriff’s department provides the county with quality law enforcement," Sheley said in an interview last week, "and I feel like I have provided the county with quality law enforcement, too."

Bright, meanwhile, has been critical of the department’s patrol division while defending the jail. He oversaw jail operations until he was suspended in August amid an investigation by the state attorney general’s office and the Miss. Department of Corrections.

"We had the best jail in the state of Mississippi and we’ll have the best sheriff’s department in the state of Mississippi if I’m elected sheriff," Bright said in an interview last Friday.

If elected sheriff, Bright, 46, has said he will improve the deputies’ patrolling and lead a friendlier staff.

The crowded field of candidates helped jumpstart debate in the race, and a laundry list of ideas for the department – starting a rank structure for deputies, hiring part-time deputies and a reserve force, introducing a substation – became common topics on the campaign trial.

Bright and Sheley spent little time discussing specific ideas, however, instead sticking to general themes such as leadership and experience.

Meetings on Medicare to explain changes
By Billy Davis

A pair of informational meetings to explain the recent changes to Medicare drug coverage have been set for next week in Batesville and Sardis.

On Monday, November 28, a 10 a.m. meeting will take place at the Batesville Public Library followed by a 1:30 p.m. meeting in Sardis in the county courthouse courtroom.

Batesville resident and state Rep. Leonard Morris announced the meetings last week, responding to inquiries from the public about the "part B" drug coverage of the federal program.

Morris is chairman of the state House Medicaid Committee.

"All of us are getting hit with a lot of questions even though this is a federal program," Morris said Friday. "We’re fielding a lot of questions that we just can’t answer."

The "part B" program is part of a new drug prescription benefit that allows participants in Medicare and Medicaid access to a variety of prescription drug plans.

The event speakers will be Linda Caffey, a representative from the Area Agency on Aging, and a representative from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

The representatives will speak on the topic and take questions from the audience, Morris said.

Pre-purchased gas eases cost crunch
By John Howell Sr.

"The picture is not total gloom and doom for Batesville," Utility Management Corporation’s Beverly Comeaux said last week about the cost of natural gas to city customers.

Through Utility Management, the city has placed pre-purchased gas in storage, Comeaux said. Much of the gas was purchased at pre-Katrina prices or at other times when prices fell.

Batesville residents who purchase natural gas through the city should expect a 60 to 70 percent increase in their bills during winter months, she said. Earlier estimates which had projected greater increases in Batesville gas customers’ utility bills were based on what the price would be if purchased at price levels reached during the post-Katrina peak.

The natural gas consultant said that bills Batesville customers receive for November usage should reflect the price which will be applied through the winter months. However, price could still be affected by an unusual variation in supply and demand that might be triggered by unusual cold or unstable conditions in the Middle East.

"It’ always a moving target," Comeaux said.

Comeaux said that her firm is contracted by sellers of natural gas, including the City of Batesville, to secure reliable sources of the fuel and purchase it when prices drop.


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