Southern Mississippi health system seeks to sell or merge

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A public health care system with three hospitals and more than 30 clinics in southern Mississippi is planning to put itself up for sale or try to merge with another health care system.

Singing River Health System administrators announced Wednesday that they had voted to make the move. A sale or merger could only proceed if supervisors in Coastal Jackson County also agree. The supervisors meet on 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.

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

The health system is managing “the complexities of an ever-changing health sector,” according to a press release. “Over the past decade, the healthcare industry has continually changed, with community hospitals like ours facing the strongest headwinds.”

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

“If a sale or other full incorporation occurs, the Singing River assets will be sold or fully integrated to the highest and highest bidder identified during the formal process,” the press release reads.

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

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

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

Patient care shouldn’t be affected as Singing River considers a sale or merger, Butsch said.

“Patients will continue to see 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 declared.

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

The hospital system stopped contributing to its own pension plan from 2009 to 2014 without informing employees and retirees. The move was part of a financial crisis in the county-owned hospital system. In early 2018, a federal judge ruled that Singing River must pay more than $156 million into 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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