By Josh Troy
The Coahoma County Board of Supervisors’ efforts to keep Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center open did not just save a building; it saved lives.
Crossroads Economic Partnership Executive Director Jon Levingston made that declaration when providing a report about the hospital during the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 3.
A business plan was put in place to buy out the lease of Delta Health Systems and have Coahoma County run its own hospital. The County began overseeing the hospital on May 1 and is in a 90-day transition period.
“Thank you for saving our hospital,” said Levingston to the Supervisors. “Let me say it one more time. Thank you for saving our hospital. You all did this. Everyone should know that without the courage, the leadership, the faith, and the determination of each member of the Coahoma County Board of Supervisors and the other elected and appointed members of the County in this room today, our hospital would be closed. And it would be shuttered. That’s a fact. That’s not speculation.
“The effect of that closure would have been devastating to this community, to this County, and to this region,” he continued. “Instead, our hospital is open. It has hope for a future of bright service to our citizens. It has a committed team and an outstanding staff of employees, and we should all be proud. You have not just saved a building, gentlemen. You have healthcare for our citizens, jobs for our community, and, most importantly, you have saved lives.
“We’re not trying to save a building. We’re trying to build an ecosystem of healthcare that is accessible and sustainable and serves all our citizens.”
Levingston introduced the hospital’s interim CEO, Bill Buck. Buck was the CEO from 2011 to 2014 when Health Management Associates ran Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center.
Khari Butler, Human Resources Manager at Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center, was also introduced.
The new Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center board under local leadership is Board President Bowen Flowers, Lela Keys, Tripp Hayes, Donell Harrell, and Alan Byrd. Flowers, Keys, and Hayes appeared before the Supervisors on July 3.
The board, according to Levingston, has met weekly since April 17.
Levingston said the journey for the County to buy out the lease of DHS began one year ago in July 2022. He said he knew it would take a team effort to save the hospital, noting a legal team, national consultants who specialize in rural healthcare, citizen leaders, and a board to govern the hospital have all been put in place.
Buck said he has been working on issues such as infrastructure, the revenue cycle, patient access, and employee recruitment.
“We’re pretty much on track,” he said. “We’re where we should be. The emphasis that has been placed on the front end of our transition to self-determination has been to restructure most of our IT (information technology) system, which is the foundation for the data.”
Buck said he is on the verge of hiring an IT director and looking to fill several other vacant positions. He said he is looking to start a human resources payroll system in the next few weeks and reinstitute a new accounting system.
Flowers expressed similar sentiments.
“On behalf of the Board of Trustees at the hospital, we just want to thank you all for your support and your trust in us,” he said. “I’ll tell you what, with Bill on board, we’re sleeping better at night.”
Flowers also said the hospital is in the process of hiring new people.
“It’s taking baby steps right now,” he said. “When we get some more people on board, we’ll hit our stride. We’re only 60 days into a three-and-a-half-year project.”
In another 30 days, Levingston said he would provide an update to the Supervisors.
“The good news is we are on track,” he said. “We are where we expected to be. As Bill and Bowen said, we have a long way to go. We have three years and four months to go to see our plan for solvency come to fruition.”
Butler, who is from Mound Bayou, introduced himself.
“I’m very optimistic that we’re going in the right direction and making strides in a short amount of time,” he said. “With that being said, I thank you all for the opportunity and look forward to working with you.”
Keys and Hayes expressed optimism about the future of the hospital.
“I feel good too because for quite some time, I’ve been worried about our healthcare system and acute care in our community,” Keys said. “Many of our people were going out of town. My concern was we must make sure that the people have what they need and a quality setting here in Coahoma County, and we are on that road to doing that.”
Keys said dollars from the hospital serving everyone can go a long way locally. She added she was employed at the hospital when Buck was the CEO.
Hayes: “We are all on a mission here to provide healthcare to the citizens of Coahoma County, and that’s what we’re going to strive to do, and we appreciate your support,” Hayes said.
Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson, who represents District 4, talked about all the hospital has gone through to get where it is now.
“I feel good,” he said. “I really do.”
Newson reflected on all the different companies that ran the hospital, including Community Health Systems, DHS, and Curae. He said there were some “rocky roads,” but now, thanks to Levingston and other leaders, things are changing.
“Especially with Bill, I feel good,” Newson said. “I know we’re going in the right direction.
“We had some waves that came down and rocked the boat, seriously rocked the boat.”
Newson believes there are good things ahead for the hospital.
“I feel some of the challenges we had were a minor setback for a major comeback,” he said.
District 2 Supervisor Pat Davis and District 1 Supervisor Paul Pearson both said they heard positive feedback from hospital employees.
“They’re excited and they’re happy. We’re glad to have you back, sir,” said Davis to Buck.
Pearson said he appreciated everything everyone is doing.
“I hear nothing but positive from the employees,” he said. “With Bill back, I think it adds a little stability to what we’re trying to do here.”