- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) - The Natchez Regional Medical Center officials say the hospital is running $3 million in the red and will file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

Before the bankruptcy process can move forward, the Mississippi Legislature has to approve and the governor needs to sign a special bill to allow it. The legislation being sent to the Capitol is identical to the bill that allowed the hospital’s 2009 bankruptcy process, hospital attorney Walter Brown said.

Adams County Board of Supervisors Attorney Scott Slover said the length of the bankruptcy process would be subject to the will of the court. The county owns the hospital and has been for a suitable buyer.

“We have got to take the process we are now doing to make sure health care stays here, and (we) are not making this decision lightly. “We have struggled with these decisions over and over, and we met every week (in January) to pull all of this together,” the Rev. Leroy White, chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees, told supervisors Tuesday.

The county-owned hospital previously filed bankruptcy in February 2009 and exited the process in December of that year.

Chief Executive Officer Donny Rentfro told The Natchez Democrat (https://bit.ly/1c2YosU ) that decreases in revenues, including reimbursement from the federal government, are a significant factor in the hospital’s financial standing.

While the bankruptcy filing means that the county technically has to start the process of selling the hospital over again - a process underway since June - that doesn’t mean current negotiations with a potential buyer have to be discarded, Brown said.

“We are probably down to one (buyer), and if you want to know the truth, we are negotiating with that party now,” Brown said. “They have every reason to buy this hospital, and they have every reason to see it as a win-win deal. We are also talking to a nonprofit teaching hospital we would hope is going to be a part of this collaborative effort for a hospital in Natchez. It is a win-win not only for the teaching hospital but for the new company coming in and a win-win for the people seeking health care in this community.”

A bankruptcy process might help move a sale along once a buyer is signed because the federal judge overseeing the case will set deadlines for when things have to happen, Brown said, adding bankruptcy will help any potential buyer have a clear title to the hospital.

The purpose of Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code is to provide a financially distressed public body protection from its creditors while it develops and negotiates a plan for adjusting its debts. Reorganization of the debts of a municipality, for example, is typically accomplished either by extending debt maturities, reducing the amount of principal or interest, or refinancing the debt by obtaining a new loan.

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Information from: The Natchez Democrat, https://www.natchezdemocrat.com/

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