Hospital deal in Grenada has Delta city leaders’ attention

GREENWOOD — Before the Greenwood City Council pulled the plug on the potential sale of Greenwood Leflore Hospital, one of the primary motivators for looking into the issue was the anticipated threat of competition from Grenada.

It was well known that Grenada County was looking for someone to take its taxpayers off the hook for the operation of its publicly owned hospital, Grenada Lake Medical Center.

Grenada County didn’t find a buyer, but it recently announced that it has reached a tentative agreement with University of Mississippi Medical Center to take over the hospital’s management.

There’s no reason for Greenwood Leflore Hospital to panic about the news. It’s not a done deal yet. There are a lot of details to work out over the next couple of months, including approval by the state College Board for the lease.

Even if the lease goes through as anticipated, it will take several more months and possibly years to turn the smaller Grenada Lake Medical Center into a competitive threat. It will have to recruit more specialists to provide services it doesn’t currently offer, it will have to change the referral habits of doctors in the region and it will have to broaden its advertising reach.

The probable deal, though, is a call for Greenwood Leflore Hospital to step up its outreach, said Dr. John F. Lucas III.

Greenwood Leflore Hospital has been having an identity crisis for several years. It’s had trouble deciding whether it’s satisfied being a community hospital or whether it wants to develop into a full-blown regional medical center.

The hospital has some specialties that have given it a multi-county draw.

Lucas himself is a well-regarded vascular surgeon who attracts dialysis patients from throughout North Mississippi and even across the state lines into Alabama and Arkansas.

The hospital’s neurosurgery, cardiology and pulmonology services are typical of the specialties a regional medical center would offer, but because the hospital only has a single practitioner in these specialties, it can’t provide around-the-clock coverage for them.

If the Greenwood hospital were to add a second specialist in these areas, it would have to increase the radius from which it draws patients in order to be keep both doctors busy, said Lucas.

Since about a third of the doctors in Leflore County are now employees of the hospital, the burden falls on the hospital board to come up with a long-range plan to increase the hospital’s market share.

That is where the developments in Grenada could complicate matters.

Alex Malouf, who resigned earlier this month as chairman of the hospital board, said that Greenwood has been getting most of its new patients from Carroll County and eastward — that is, in the backyard of Grenada Lake Medical Center. That area may become tougher pickings if UMMC takes over there.

UMMC, though, may not be a traditional competitor. Even while it has been working on the management deal with Grenada Lake Medical Center, it has also been in talks with Greenwood Leflore Hospital about a partnership.

UMMC wants to have a larger patient volume, Lucas said.

“That means either having a strong relationship with outlying hospitals or having a management position with those hospitals,” he said.

In a partnership, UMMC would provide specialty services that the Greenwood hospital doesn’t currently have, and in return expect referrals of patients who require care that’s too complex for what the local hospital could comfortably handle.

The stronger the competition, the tougher it will be for the Greenwood hospital to increase its market share.

But the Greenwood hospital doesn’t really have much choice but to engage in the battle. The hospital will be stagnant or even decline if it relies largely for patients from Leflore County, given its population losses and heavy dependence on Medicaid and Medicare.

Lucas offers an interesting — if somewhat lofty example — of what growing the market share can do.

“If the Mayo Clinic were to just serve the patients in Rochester, Minn., they would have a staff that’s not much bigger than ours,” he said. “But they have a thousand physicians because they draw from all over the country.”

 

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