Health System in South Mississippi Seeks Sale or Merger

Imageedit 12 8127291569PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) — A publicly owned health system with three hospitals and more than 30 clinics in south Mississippi intends to put itself up for sale or try to merge with another health system.

Trustees of the Singing River Health System announced Wednesday that they had voted to make the move. A sale or merger could happen only if supervisors in coastal Jackson County also agree. The supervisors meet Monday. Their vote would then lead to public hearings.

Singing River has hospitals in Pascagoula, Ocean Springs and Gulfport. It has more than 4,000 employees.

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Singing River Health System communications manager Ashley Butsch told the Sun Herald that Wednesday was the first time the board considered pursuing a merger or sale.

The health system has been managing “complexities of a constantly evolving healthcare industry,” according to a news release. “Over the last decade, the healthcare industry has continually changed, with community hospitals like ours facing the strongest headwinds.”

Butsch said the system told its employees about the board’s decision before making a public announcement.

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“If a sale or other full integration occurs, the Singing River assets will be sold to or fully integrated with the highest and best bidder that is identified during the formal process,” the news release said.

The release said Singing River expects to engage in negotiations with Louisiana-based Ochsner Health, but proposals would be considered from other health systems that might submit “offers that are higher and/or better than Ochsner Health’s offer,” WLOX-TV reported.

Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas said in a statement to news outlets that Ochsner already has a partnership with Singing River Health System and “it is our goal to enter into a long-term fully integrated relationship to continue serving the communities of the Mississippi Gulf Coast together.”

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Ochsner operates a hospital in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and recently expanded operations in a merger with Rush Health System that operates hospitals in Meridian, Mississippi, and western Alabama.

Patient care should not be affected as Singing River considers a sale or merger, Butsch said.

“Patients will continue to see the providers and access services as they always have — and Singing River Health System will continue to accept insurance from payers as we do today,” she said.

Singing River will continue funding the pension plan for current employees and retirees, Butsch said.

The hospital system stopped paying into its own pension plan from 2009 to 2014 without telling employees and retirees. That decision was part of a financial crisis at the county-owned hospital system. In early 2018, a federal judge ruled that Singing River must pay more than $156 million to its pension fund over 35 years.

Earlier this year, Singing River Health System CEO Lee Bond abruptly resigned to pursue other career opportunities.

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