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Amid cash crunch, hospital system cuts out neurosurgery

PASCAGOULA — A south Mississippi hospital that has faced financial problems is saving money by eliminating neurosurgery, and that means some patients are now being sent out of state after wrecks or other emergencies.

A Singing River Health System executive spoke to Jackson County officials at a public meeting Monday, The Sun Herald reported (http://bit.ly/2nG0Tyz ). Brian Argo is chief financial officer for the two facilities in the county-owned system — Ocean Springs Hospital and Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula.

Jackson County Supervisor Ken Taylor asked “if business decisions are dictating practice.” Argo said they are.

The hospital’s budget year ended Sept. 30, and it was the first year without neurosurgery. Argo said a helicopter at Ocean Springs Hospital can take patients with head trauma to Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.

He said Singing River can no longer afford the two surgeons that would be required to offer full neurological services.

“With the volume of cases, it just didn’t work,” Argo said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t do it again.”

Argo went over an annual independent audit that confirmed the hospital system ended the fiscal year with $5.1 million on hand. Two years ago, the hospital was $35 million short of cash. It has reduced operating expenses to improve its standing with companies that hold its $80 million bond debt that is backed by the county.

“We’re pretty much on-budget, except for the pension expenses,” Argo said. He said expenses were up $3 million because of the liability for the failed employee pension plan.

He said the former leadership team of Singing River failed to invest into the system. He said any “free cash flow” will be used for repairs and maintenance.

Argo said the hospital system plans to absorb what could be up to $2 million in legal fees for fighting retirees over the failed pension plan. It has accumulated $3 million in costs, but its insurance company recently won a federal court decision that coverage stopped at $1 million. Argo said the system is appealing the decision.

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