Hospital Update (December 21st, 2018)

Published 12:04 pm Wednesday, December 26, 2018

By Jeremy Weldon

Mayor Jerry Autrey and other Batesville and Panola County officials were scheduled to meet today with the new owner of the Panola Medical Center to discuss the future of the local hospital.

A bankruptcy judge in Nashville this week gave approval of the sale of the hospital and its assets to an investment group that Oxford attorney Quentin Whitwell and at least one physician. Whitwell was in Batesville Thursday meeting with Curae Health representatives and others at Panola Medical Center but could not be reached for comment.

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Details of the transaction, including the future plans for Panola Medical Center, should be more clear following today’s meeting. That meeting will include city aldermen, county supervisors, Panola Partnership representatives, and other officials.

The sale will not be finalized until sometime in January but all the major legal hurdles have been cleared and Batesville is no longer in danger of losing the hospital. Curae Health was the last owners of the facility but declared bankruptcy earlier this year citing overwhelming debt that burdened that company from the beginning of their ownership of the hospital.

Company officials said the challenges of offering full-service healthcare in a rural area, combined with monthly debt service was too much to overcome and become profitable. Curae purchased two other rural hospitals in Mississippi at the same time – in Amory and Clarksdale – and monthly losses at the Clarksdale hospital contributed greatly to the failure of the company’s local efforts.

Wayne Thompson, who has served as chief financial officer of the Batesville hospital for almost a year, said the local facility has positive cash flow of about $30,000 a week during the 12 weeks just prior to the filing. Thompson maintains the Panola Medical Center has everything needed to operate efficiently while offering full-service health care to residents except the full support of the community.

“If the community wants to keep this hospital then they are going to have to come here. It’s as simple as that,” Thompson said last week. He noted that many well-meaning city and county residents have made a habit of going to Oxford and Southaven for routine medical care that is offered at the same standards in Batesville.

Autrey said he was informed that a deal had been reached Wednesday to transfer ownership. “I don’t many details just yet because we haven’t met with the new owners, but I’m really glad to have this thing over with and hope that we don’t let this get away from us again.”

“I’ve been saying it to everyone I see lately and it’s one of the most important things we can do for our city and that’s supporting the local hospital,” Autrey said. “We have good people working there and the doctors and nurses are sometimes the same ones you would see in Oxford up in DeSoto (County).”

The mayor said city and county officials will keep a close eye on the hospital’s operations and be in constant communication with owners and managers. “We can’t let this happen again. Batesville doesn’t need to go through this every two years dealing with a bankrupt hospital and new owners. Soon or later we are going to run out of luck,” he said.