Hospital investors ask for two-month deferment

Published 8:13 pm Saturday, February 7, 2009

At one time the Troy Regional Medical Center was on the brink of closings its doors for good.

And though a year later that’s no longer the case, uncertainty still lies ahead.

“We have some cash flow issues we’re dealing with,” said Troy Regional Medical Center CEO Rusty Eldridge, who is not one of the hospital owners.

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But, they are issues Eldridge said the 15 hospital investors are diligently attempting to work through a year after they have taken ownership.

Under the original agreement, the Doctors Group, LLC, a group of local doctors who banned together to take ownership of the hospital, would lease the hospital through the city of Troy’s Health Care Authority if they chose to after one year.

But, in the last city council meeting, Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford announced the city will defer that arrangement at least two months at the request of the doctors.

“In order to assist the Doctors Group a year ago, the city gave an assurance to the bank we would, within 12 months time if the Doctors Group chose to, issue the bonds to pay off the base amount for the hospital,” Lunsford said.

Lunsford said if the Health Care Authority takes over the bonds, the city would take ownership of all the hospital assets, but they would in turn either lease the hospital back to the doctors or to another entity.

Eldridge said the Doctors Group wanted more time to determine if they would be able to finance the hospital themselves, rather than going through the city.

“The deadline was rapidly approaching, and what they asked to do was to defer at least two months,” Eldridge said. “This will give us a little more time to secure finances to buy it outright and pay off the debt.”

And Eldridge said the purchase is something he is hopeful the group will be able to do.

“It does look like they are coming together, and we’re very hopeful things will work out,” Eldridge said.

Chairman of the Doctors Group John Crosby said by the end of the week, he should have a more definitive answer on just what the group’s plan will be.

But, if the city does take over the lease, Lunsford said Troy will not incur any debt since they will lease the bonds back.

“The city is not trying to buy the hospital. We don’t want to buy the hospital,” Lunsford said.

“Our intent a year ago was to try to turn around the hospital situation by supporting the doctors group.”

Still, Lunsford said he is happy the city can assist the doctors and keep the doors to Troy Regional Medical Center open for business, after the previous owner Attentus Health Care went bankrupt last year.

“It was a low time in Troy, Ala. when (Attentus) owned the hospital,” Lunsford said.

“They did an absolutely atrocious job as a health care company, went through $97 million and went broke.”

Lunsford said it was this group of 14 doctors, partnering with another investor, who stepped up to task, and he is glad they did.

“We didn’t want the hospital to close, and the way Attentus was running it, it was going to have to close,” Lunsford said.

“I get calls, and now, the calls, the notes, the things I receive are positive. I think the quality of care of the nursing staff and the total staff is absolutely fabulous.”

Improvements in health care is something Eldridge said he attests to as well since the doctors took ownership.

“It is much improved. We’ve hired quality nursing staff, and quality employees who have improved the level of care,” Eldridge said.