Greenwood, Miss.—Greenwood Leflore Hospital is looking for a new owner for the second time since 2022 and could fail unless the State of Mississippi expands Medicaid, the mayor of Greenwood, Miss., is warning.
The City of Greenwood and Leflore County own the hospital, but they cannot afford to keep the hospital afloat because it’s “financially in bad shape,” Mayor Carolyn McAdams, a political independent, told the Mississippi Free Press on Aug. 25.
“We’ve been trying desperately to come up with ways to make the hospital solvent—we’ve reduced staff, reduced services,” she said.
The hospital has shut down several departments to save money, including the labor and delivery unit, intensive care unit, neurosurgery, inpatient dialysis and urology. The City took out a $10 million line of credit to keep the hospital from closing in 2023, and the Mississippi Legislature is giving the hospital about $1 million through the Mississippi Hospital Sustainability Grant Program passed earlier this year, but McAdams said the grant had not come in yet as of Aug. 25.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center almost took over the hospital last year when it was up for lease, but backed out 72 hours before it signed the agreement, McAdams said.
Greenwood Leflore is currently listed as an acute care facility, but Greenwood leaders applied through the federal government to reclassify it as a critical access hospital. McAdams said on Aug. 25 they are still waiting for approval.
The City published a request for proposal in the Greenwood Commonwealth newspaper on Aug. 29 to attract people to buy or lease the hospital.
Greenwood Leflore is one of many rural Mississippi hospitals that is struggling to stay open. A July report from Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform found that 34 of the state’s 73 rural hospitals are at risk of closing, up from 28 in February. The organization’s CEO, Harold D. Miller, told the Mississippi Free Press in February that Medicaid expansion could help, but also attributed financial problems to low reimbursement rates from commercial insurers and Medicare. He said the Legislature’s grants could “push back the day of reckoning somewhat,” but that the need for such a program is “not necessarily an indication that things are going well.”
McAdams said Medicaid expansion could help the hospital stay afloat, but it wouldn’t be the only solution, mentioning that the Legislature’s grant and the line of credit are part of the answer.
“Other hospitals in Mississippi are in the same shape as the Greenwood-Leflore Hospital, which is on the chopping block right now,” she said. “But they’re all in financial situations because of … not having Medicaid expansion.”
Medicaid expansion would cover Mississippians with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level. Individuals under the poverty level who don’t qualify for subsidies are eligible for Medicaid. Many more Mississippians would be eligible for Medicaid if the State expanded the program, with experts estimating that between 100,000 and 300,000 working Mississippians would gain coverage.
Mississippi and nine other Republican-led states have not expanded Medicaid, even though the federal government would cover virtually the entire cost; the State has given up over $10 billion in federal funds for expansion since 2013. Gov. Tate Reeves opposes expanding Medicaid and previously blocked it from getting a floor vote when he served as lieutenant governor and the president of the Mississippi State Senate.
Instead of Medicaid expansion, he said he’d like for Mississippians to make higher wages so they can better afford private insurance. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation, a burden that disproportionately falls on Black residents.
“The best way to do that is get more people with more and better and higher-paying jobs, which will allow them to get private insurance,” Reeves told reporters at the Neshoba County Fair on July 27.
Reeves signed the hospital grant program into law earlier this year, despite warning that “it’s a very slippery slope as to how big the check is that they want to write because keeping inefficient systems is not a good answer.” Democratic candidate for governor Brandon Presley has made Medicaid expansion and saving hospitals from closure two of his top priorities if elected.
“Where has Tate Reeves been while the future of Greenwood Leflore Hospital is in jeopardy?” Presley said in a statement several hours after holding a press conference outside the hospital on Aug. 23, promising to expand Medicaid to “keep rural hospitals open, create good-paying jobs, and provide healthcare to 220,000 hardworking Mississippians.”
Reeves is running for re-election and voters will choose between him and Presley this fall. The general election for all statewide, regional and legislative offices is on Nov. 7, 2023. Voters must register in person by Oct. 9, 2023, or have mailed voter registration applications postmarked by Oct. 10, 2023, to be eligible to cast a ballot on Election Day. More information on voting is available at sos.ms.gov.
Reporter Heather Harrison graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in Communication in 2023. She worked at The Reflector student newspaper for three years, starting as a staff writer, then the news editor before becoming the editor-in-chief. During her time at The Reflector, Heather won 13 awards for her multi-media journalism work. In her free time, Heather likes to walk her dog, Finley, read books, and listen to Taylor Swift. Heather lives in Starkville, where she has spent the past four years. She is a Hazlehurst, Mississippi, native.