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Range of factors add to intensity

Physician recruitment programs in the Delta critical

Demographics, a high number of Medicare and Medicaid patients and a negative perception of Mississippi, in general, and the Delta, in particular, are stumbling blocks recruiting firms and hospitals are encountering when trying to recruit physicians.

Add to the recruiting mix some of the nation’s highest incidences of disease-specific medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and stroke-related conditions and all forms of cancer, and the recruiting effort becomes even more intense.

“There are serious health issues here that we have to face in the Mississippi Delta,” said L. Ray Humphreys, FACHE, CEO of Delta Regional Medical Center in Greenville. “And doing so is a challenge for Delta Regional Medical Center, but one we are working very hard to achieve by recruiting the very best physicians in the areas we have great need.”

Delta Regional, owned by Washington County, is the largest healthcare provider in the Delta with 1,323 employees, and had a 2005 annual budget of $106,837,753, which includes $28,506,668 of uncompensated care.

“Delta Regional continues to focus on the recruitment of quality physicians and healthcare professionals to the Delta region to serve our patients,” said Terri Lane, director of communications for Delta Regional Medical Center.

“We recruited 27 physicians over the last five years, but we still need more,” said Humphreys who has been in this position for over five years. “We have a mission and vision for the hospital and that is to improve the healthcare of the people we serve. We have no choice if we want to reach that mission but to do what it takes to secure the best and most qualified physicians at DRMC.”

Delta Regional also works with at least three recruiting firms around the country to assist in headhunting for needed physicians.

Overcoming obstacles

Lee Ann Bowlin, physician recruitment coordinator at Delta Regional, is charged with coordinating the hospital’s physician recruiting efforts, which includes “mass mailing campaigns, mass e-mail blasts, using Web sites and placing ads in medical journals.”

Bowlin said the “number one complaint by physicians is the geographic location, then demographics, the perception of Mississippi and the perception of the Delta.”

Leslie Maynard, marketing consultant for Delta Physician Placement of Irving, Texas, agrees.

“That is a problem, but not one that can’t be overcome and is quite often,” said Maynard whose company works with Delta Regional and several other medical facilities in the state when it comes to recruiting physicians. “While many physicians will not give Mississippi or the Delta a second look, we do find physicians that will come for an interview.

“Many times once they get here, those perceptions are changed by the interaction with the people and the quality of life. I like the area. It’s a beautiful state. It has a lot of good qualities,” she said.

“If we can get the physician to come for an interview, then we can usually change their mind about the Delta, and offer an outstanding quality of life, lower cost of living, a good financial package and a medical challenge where they can build their practice,” said Bowlin.

“It’s a problem recruiting physicians to the Delta,” said Jimmy Blessitt, administrator of South Sunflower County Hospital in Indianola.

Sunflower County, the longest county in the state, actually has two county-owned hospitals — the 49-bed facility in Indianola with a $15-million annual budget opened in 1939, and the 25-bed facility in northern Sunflower County located in Ruleville.

In Blessitt’s 29 years at South Sunflower County Hospital, he has seen healthcare take dramatic turns, but the recruitment of physicians has remained a constant problem.

“It’s a long, ongoing program for most hospitals — ours included. But we do what we can to be appealing. If we can get the physician here to take a look at us, then the people have got to sell the community. You’ve got to sell yourself and the community to be successful,” said Blessitt.

Deborah Guthrie, CEO of Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center in Clarksdale, agrees that “physician recruitment is a continuing concern.”

Northwest Mississippi Regional, which is owned by Health Management Associates Inc. of Naples, Fla., is a 95-bed facility with 14 outpatient rehabilitation beds along with 58 physicians. Guthrie declined to say what the annual budget is for the hospital.

When it comes to recruiting for Northwest Mississippi, Guthrie said, “we have some special things going for us in Clarksdale. We have the whole blues history and our historical perspective with people like Tennessee Williams and a quality of life. Our proximity to urban areas like Memphis is also important.”

And with the upgrade at the Tunica Airport not but 38 miles north of Clarksdale, “that is also a plus now, too,” she said.
With three weekly flights on Pam Am 737 jets with direct service to Atlanta, “that is a great selling point because Atlanta is a hub for air service. People can fly into Atlanta then directly to Tunica, and we pick them up. It’s great for us,” said Guthrie, who’s been in Clarksdale since October 2005. Before that she worked for a hospital in Atlanta.

New to the region

Steve Nichols, CEO of Bolivar Medical Center in Cleveland, has been in this job now for four months.
Lifepoint Hospitals Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn., owns the Bolivar Medical Center.

“Being new to the Delta, I find that it’s really not any harder to recruit here that other rural areas in the state. Once we get a physician here for a visit, it’s an easy sell,” said Nichols, who was CEO at Riley Medical Center in Meridian before coming to Cleveland.

Direct recruiting programs along with recruiting from residency programs have been successful for Bolivar Medical in the past, although the hospital also works with recruiting firms, said Nichols.

And while the various hospitals generally engage in similar recruiting strategies, they also employ strategies peculiar to their particular institutions.

Successful strategy

South Sunflower County Hospital has spent some of its resources over the years to assist local people with medical school expenses with the caveat that the individual will return to the community to work and live.

“This has been one of our most successful strategies,” said Blessitt. “There is always a shortage of physicians in the Delta, and this is one way we can use to help bring some of our local people back home.”

“There’s a world of physicians out there that are not interested in the Delta. So we have to try different strategies to bring qualified medical personnel here. And with supporting local people with their medical school training, we know that there will at least be the potential of some coming back here to work,” he said.

“Delta Regional Medical Center is working closely with other community organizations like the Industrial Foundation of Washington County and the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce to improve the quality of life in the Delta region.

“These partnerships allow this community to work with the one goal of improving the community and making it more attractive, not only for physician recruiting but for the recruitment of additional industries and top executives, as well,” Lane said.

Delta Regional has also invested in partnering “with area colleges and universities to establish nurse residency programs, preceptor programs and extern programs aimed at keeping qualified healthcare professionals in this market to serve the patients of the Delta,” concluded Lane.

At Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center, recruiting strategies specific to that hospital include the development and implementation of a “Web site presentation developed for physicians. Here we present the whole spectrum of the hospital, the community, the Delta on one Web site for physicians. It has made a great difference,” said Guthrie.

Another ongoing program is “that we will consider a local tenant until a permanent replacement is found,” she added.
“We are somewhat in competition with each other, but there are things we can do together,” said Nichols. “We have talked with Delta Regional on several occasions about some things and with the Delta Health Center in Mound Bayou.”


South Sunflower County Hospital is currently looking for a family practitioner that also delivers babies, otherwise known as an obstetrician.

Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center is recruiting for a vascular surgeon, urologist, gastroenterologist, another primary care physician and a second oncologist.

Bolivar Medical Center is looking for someone in internal medicine, a pediatrician and an orthopedic surgeon.
Delta Regional Medical Center’s current physician recruiting effort includes an ongoing search for the specialties of orthopedic surgery, gastroenterology, otolaryngology (ENT) and pulmonology.

Recent recruiting efforts have resulted in securing the services of Dr. Naser Eikhalili, a rheumatologist, who will be joining the Delta Regional Medical Center staff this fall.

Contact MBJ contributing writer David Lush at dlldelta000@yahoo.com.

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