Mississippi hospital has been burning through cash — coronavirus pandemic just made it worse

Published 11:03 am Sunday, September 26, 2021

A hospital in the Mississippi Delta has been losing millions of dollars a year, and its CEO said the problems are exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic as nurses, laboratory technicians and respiratory therapists are being hired by out-of-state hospitals for short-term contract work at higher salaries.

Leaders of Greenwood Leflore Hospital held closed-door hearings in the past week to brief local officials and its own employees about proposals for a financial turnaround.

CEO Jason Studley said no layoffs or terminations are anticipated, although some positions might not be filled as employees leave, the Greenwood Commonwealth reported. Studley told the newspaper he would publicly release details of the financial plan in the coming week.

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The hospital has about 1,000 employees and is owned by the city of Greenwood and Leflore County. Local government officials asked for Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think we’re on the right track to move forward,” said Leflore County Supervisor Sam Abraham after emerging from the closed-door session with the hospital board and top administrators.

Leflore County Supervisor Robert Collins wasn’t convinced the plan would work.

“It should have been implemented a year ago,” Collins said. “You shouldn’t wait until the boat is going down and try to save it.”

The hospital has spent nearly all of the $25 million in federal pandemic relief money. For the first 11 months of the current budget year, it has lost $13.2 million, even after using $11 million in federal grant money. For the same period last year, the loss was $755,000 when $15.5 million in coronavirus grant money was used.

The hospital started the current budget year with $52.8 million cash on hand. By the end of August, it had $28.3 million.

More than $14 million of its reserves are from advanced Medicare payments the hospital received last year. That cushion is a loan, which the hospital is repaying through deductions in monthly reimbursements from the government insurance program. The reimbursements are about $500,000 a month, but are scheduled to double next spring, according to Dawne Holmes, the hospital’s chief financial officer.

Hospital officials said the current financial trajectory is untenable.

Studley said he asked the local officials to use state and federal political connections to secure help for the hospital, whether through Medicaid expansion or additional grants.