OCH announces affiliation with UMMC

From left to right: newly-announced OCH CEO Jim Jackson, OCH Board of Trustees Chair Linda Breazeale and retired OCH CEO Richard Hilton
prepare to begin discussions on affiliation at a joint OCH Board and Oktibbeha County Supervisors meeting Tuesday. The board announced affiliation
with University of Mississippi Medical Center. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)

Staff Writer

After months of discussion, OCH Regional Medical Center has announced an affiliation agreement with University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The decision was announced Tuesday, following an hour-long executive session between the OCH Board of Trustees and the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors. Prior to announcing the affiliation with UMMC, the OCH Board also entertained possible affiliations with North Mississippi Health Services and Baptist Health Systems. More information on the affiliation will be given at a joint press conference at 10 a.m. on Monday, July 9.

“All three of them were very strong candidates,” said OCH Board Chair Linda Breazeale. “None of them were weak. It was about what each candidate brought to this community, and how we felt this health system would fit with what we offer already here, and what we want to offer for the future.”

Breazeale also emphasized the amount of time and effort the OCH Board put into the affiliation process, hearing several presentations from all three candidates and carefully weighing the pros and cons of each.

“We involved medical staff, the administration here at the hospital and the board of trustees,”Breazeale said. “It was a diverse group of people involved in the evaluation of the three health systems.”

Retiring OCH CEO Richard Hilton said there would be a period of 120 days to workout the details leading up to the official beginning of the affiliation. Breazeale said the agreement also could be tweaked or changed if need be.

“I think this affiliation will make OCH a stronger hospital, and I think it’s going to be good for everyone involved both here in Oktibbeha County and down at UMMC,” Breazeale said.

Other UMMC affiliates statewide and beyond include North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, Anderson Hospital in Meridian, Memorial Hospital in Gulfport and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

“Our new affiliation with OCH is an excellent opportunity for our residents and faculty physicians to bring the resources of the state’s only academic medical center to the Golden Triangle,” said UMMC Associate Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs and professor of vascular surgery Dr. Charles O’Mara.

The affiliation will allow UMMC the opportunity to expand training programs for Mississippi practitioners by placing residents and fellows at OCH.

“We asked each system to provide us with a menu of things that could be in that area of increasing revenue over expenses, and they all came back with presentations and handouts that were all very impressive going on into the first round,” Hilton said. “The board looked at that collectively in an aggregate format and set about trying to decide which system would be better fitted for the hospital.”

Following question-and answer sessions with each of the system’s CEOs, Hilton emphasized the difficulty of the decision. He said it was not one specific attribute, which steered the board toward UMMC. He listed volume discounting, physician-related services, and bringing residents and other doctors to the community as some of the driving factors.

The affiliation announcement comes the day after Hilton’s successor, former Greenwood Leflore Hospital CEO Jim Jackson was announced in a press conference at OCH.

WATCH: OCH introduces Jim Jackson as new CEO

“If I could turn back the clock a few years, it would have been a great opportunity for me to walk in those footsteps, going forward to work with a larger system, I would have been very excited,” Hilton said. “I think Mr.Jackson, who the board has selected, is excited for the opportunity that he’ll have moving forward as these various elements of expectations are implemented.”

Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said he was surprised the board went with UMMC, on behalf of the hospital not being interested leading up to the failed referendum on the sale or lease of OCH in 2017.

“I didn’t expect UMMC to be the one that’s the people’s choice, but at the same time I respect the hospital’s decision, and we pray everything works out,” Trainer said. “I’m interested to see how that affiliation is going to really bring some changes or benefits back to Oktibbeha County.”

Trainer said even with the degree of surprise, he respected the OCH Board’s decision.

“I’m hoping that we will be the benefactors of some increased services, and also being able to help stop the bleeding on the bottom line, and at the end of the day, provide more services to the people of Oktibbeha than we have currently available," Trainer said.

District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller told the Starkville Daily News the meeting was great, and she enjoyed listening to Hilton, Jackson, doctors and trustees discuss the selection process.

“The affiliation is a proactive approach for OCH in the fast-changing health care environment. The trustees, doctors and administration spent a lot of time selecting the best fit for our community,” Miller said. “The commitment OCH has to quality health care in Oktibbeha County will be strengthened with the affiliation through resources UMMC has to offer.”

Discussion of affiliation began in January, following the failure of a referendum on the sale or lease of the hospital at the ballot box in November 2017.