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Forrest Health will take over day to day operation of Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home

The Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home’s day-to-day management will soon be taken over by Forrest Health.

On Thursday, the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to enter into a lease agreement with Forrest Health, the same company that operates Forrest General Hospital and Highland Community Hospital, to allow the healthcare provider to operate the Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home.

Lease negotiations with Forrest Health still need to be finalized, such as the date the lease will begin, said County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin. He said that process could take 30 to 45 days.

“The hospital has struggled in recent years, and it’s becoming very hard to be a small stand-alone hospital,” Lumpkin said. “We just wanted to keep quality healthcare in the county, and the Board just felt this would be the best way to do it.”

The hospital is owned by the county and currently is run by a Board of Governors appointed by the Board of Supervisors, Lumpkin said. The county will still own the hospital, but instead of the Board of Governors, Forrest Health will take over the day-to-day management of the hospital, Lumpkin said.

Since Forrest Health owns Highland Community Hospital in Picayune, the company will create an advisory board for Pearl River County to help manage the hospitals in Picayune and Poplarville, Lumpkin said.

“We think we’re going to improve healthcare overall,” Lumpkin said. “That’s the mission and the goal of doing what we did—to make sure there’s stable healthcare, and to be able to improve and upgrade the equipment at the hospital and nursing home.”

The Board of Supervisors has been working on finding new options for managing the hospital for several months, said Lumpkin. That included talking with county offices and receiving proposals from both Gulfport Memorial and Forrest Health.

Lumpkin said he does not know how the lease agreement will affect current hospital employees, but does not expect it to affect them significantly.

“Forrest General will have to have people to operate the facility. They will take over the employees that they need to. I can’t say exactly how that’s going to go, because that will be left up to them and how they handle the employees,” Lumpkin said.

Forrest Health CEO Andy Woodard released a statement thanking the Board for selecting Forrest Health as a healthcare partner.

“Forrest General Hospital already has over $67 million invested in Pearl River County with the new Highland Hospital.  This new partnership will further solidify our commitment to stable access to healthcare on the northern end of Pearl River County.  We will release further details once the final documents have been worked out,” Woodard said in the statement.

Many rural hospitals across the nation are struggling to stay open, Lumpkin said, and some rural hospitals in Mississippi have closed this year. The Board decided to enter the lease because it did not want residents in the north end of the county to lose healthcare access, Lumpkin said.

According to previous coverage, the hospital’s revenue dropped from $20 million in 2016 to $17 million in 2017, but was expected to increase in the 2019 fiscal year.

The Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home currently owes approximately $3 million to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Lumpkin said. According to previous coverage, the hospital was required to pay the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid $5.9 million due to unethical money management by previous hospital administrators that occurred in 2011. The debt entails a 10.75 percent interest rate and CMS withholds an average of $120,000 monthly payment of Medicare reimbursements from the hospital, according to previous coverage.

In June, the Board considered loaning money to the hospital at a lower interest rate to help it pay off the remaining debt, according to previous coverage. However, the Board never went through with acquiring a loan, Lumpkin said.