By CARL SMITH
Supervisors say an educational, open forum needs to be held which addresses all sides and arguments within a potential sale of OCH Regional Medical Center.
For the first time publicly, discussion on a potential hospital sale was placed on the county agenda for Monday’s regular board meeting. The board took no official action on the matter. Instead, District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer used his allotted time to open the door for public discussion and to gauge supervisors’ interest. Supervisors agreed a meeting should be held where hospital administrators discuss OCH’s current status as a regional health care provider and its future projections. No date was set for the public meeting, but Trainer said he would be working to secure an outside consultant for the meeting.
Trainer and District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams both said they have been contacted by outside organizations about possibly taking over the county hospital. Trainer said a change in ownership could provide longterm benefits to county health care, education, economic development and infrastructure; however, hospital administrators say the county would experience a cascading array of issues, including job losses and decreased quality of health care.
“I’m excited about the opportunities we have in health care for this county. I want the public to understand my position is to improve health care. We have some opportunities in health care that are tremendous.
These opportunities could take Oktibbeha County and put us in a position unlike any other in Mississippi,” Trainer said. “We’ve been contacted by people who have an interest in health care in this county — that’s no secret. I think we have a good hospital, but I think health care could be better. The driving thing for me is the possibility of what we could have. Being an elected official, I think it would be detrimental not to let the public know. If we don’t at least consider other avenues, we’re setting ourselves up to diminish. This is a major, pivotal decision. The county needs to be well studied and guided.”
Board President Marvell Howard said supervisors would be remiss without inviting OCH administration to the table for such a pivotal discussion.
“We’ve got a new hospital administrator and the $27.5 (million bond issue) additions to the hospital,” Howard said. “With these things combined, I don’t know if anyone has sat down with the hospital administration and asked them to lay out a plan … (or asked) ‘Are you actively recruiting (doctors)’ and ‘How do you see the new additions (impacting the future).’”
If supervisors move to explore a possible sale, state law dictates outside analysis by a certified public accounting firm, a law firm or competent professional health care manager to review the current operating conditions. At the very minimum, the analysis should review in-patient facility needs based on workload, historic trends and projections based on demographics; the competitive market for services, including other area hospitals, services provided and the market perception of the competitive hospitals; the hospital’s strengths relative to competition and its capacity to compete based on projected trends; and the hospital’s options, including service mix and pricing strategies. Trainer said a comprehensive analysis could take 45 days and cost $35,000, much like the same process Grenada County is conducting.
Williams said outside analysis was needed because the board needs the facts in front of it no matter what decision representatives reach.
“We’ve got a lot of opinions, but we don’t have any facts to go on. With outside analysis … (it will) lay the facts on the table, not opinions, … so we can make an informed decision,” Williams said. “It seems like that’s the only way to move forward.”
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said outside examination will allow the board to make a definitive decision on an issue that will not go away any time soon.
“There are people on both sides of the issue. (A move to gather information) isn’t to say we’re going to sell it. This will tell us what are its strengths, weaknesses and what makes this hospital what it is,” Montgomery said. “There are a lot of people working at the hospital. We keep hearing both sides tell us if you sell, you’ll lose jobs, and if you don’t, you’ll lose jobs. Health care is definitely an important issue, but it’s the people that matter, the ones you see in everyday life. In a small community like this, when 200 people lose their jobs, (the community) will feel it; we’ll feel it.”
If the county should choose to sell or lease OCH Regional Medical Center, a public hearing is mandated by state law. A resolution of action must be published which would include the requirements sale or lease proposals, the evaluation process for proposals and a proposed sale or lease date.
After finding an appropriate suitor and negotiating a deal, registered voters could then force the issue onto the ballot, negating any county action. If 20 percent of the county’s registered voters or 1,500 registered individuals — whichever is less — sign and file a petition with the county, then an election must be held.
OCH CEO Richard Hilton said hospital administrators look forward to educating the public on what a potential sale would mean for the economy. Last week, he said giving control to a for- or non-profit organization could reduce the community-oriented services hospital trustees aim to preserve, cut an estimated 140 to over 200 jobs and deeply cut back the amount of economic impact the OCH produces.
“There are seven trustees appointed by the supervisors to run this hospital from the standpoint of what they think is best for the community it serves. They’ve gone on the record as totally opposed to any potential sale or lease of OCH Regional Medical Center,” Hilton said Friday. “It is of the best interest of this community to remain under local control with local ownership that has full input in terms of delivered health care services for this community. Once it’s sold, all local input goes out the door.”