|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.
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.