By CARL SMITH
Event organizers are preparing for two upcoming educational sessions regarding the future of OCH Regional Medical Center, and both events should elicit public discussion which will continue well past next week.
Tomorrow, District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer will hold a session featuring Richard Cowart, a representative of Baker Donelson’s Nashville law firm, at 5:30 p.m. at the county courthouse. In previous board meetings, Trainer said Cowart will discuss what other counties have done when faced with a possible government-owned hospital transaction.
According to its website, Baker Donelson partners have handled over 100 hospital transactions in numerous states.
Trainer’s session was scheduled independently from the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors.
In response to Monday’s session, hospital supporter Frank Davis scheduled a pro-OCH meeting for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Greensboro Center. Davis’ session will feature OCH CEO Richard Hilton, other top administrators and the hospital’s board of trustees. Hilton said he will discuss the hospital’s past, its current standing and future projections.
Both event organizers say presentations are almost prepared and they hope citizens come away with a better understanding of OCH Regional Medical Center and what a possible sale or lease would mean to Oktibbeha County. They also predict large crowds at each event.
County representatives Marvell Howard, John Montgomery and Trainer said they will attend each session, while Daniel Jackson and Joe Williams were unavailable for comment at press time. Supervisors say they believe both will also attend each meeting.
“I think the main focus (of the two meetings) needs to be on the facts so we can clear any misconceptions that might be out there. I’m hearing more than anything else that people are saying they want the facts and want both sides to have an opportunity to present the facts,” Howard said. “This is an emotional issue because we’re talking about our county-owned hospital. I know the conversation will be civil, and I hope both sides go into each meeting with an open mind. With an open mind and the facts, that’s all you can ask for.”
Trainer said Cowart’s discussion will mainly stay “even-keel” and present different outcomes in other communities’ transactions. Cowart, who represented health care systems during transactions in Lowndes and Lafayette counties, said in June some communities chose not to pursue a sale or lease.
“There’s nothing more we can do than let (Cowart) present his experiences about what other communities are doing. We’re not at the point (of a transaction) where we can answer a lot of what-if questions, but I’m very excited about the possibilities we have here,” Trainer said. “I think we have a lot of potential to do something special. It won’t be an easy task, but I think it could be very beneficial if we positioned ourselves correctly. If we do go a different direction (away from a county-owned hospital), the key is to find the right partner. If that idea is good for the county, it will shine, but if it’s not, it will not.”
As for Thursday’s meeting, Davis said the impact OCH provides to individuals will be highlighted. Davis began braving the heat and collecting Oktibbeha County residents’ signatures in opposition to any type of hospital transaction. People in Starkville, Maben and Sturgis have shown the grassroots movement support and written their name on his petition.
“We’re hoping to hit a home run (Thursday),” Davis said.
Public discussion on a potential OCH transaction began at the county board’s first meeting in June after Trainer said growing rumors, speculation and concern needed to be addressed. Trainer, who last month said he was in contact with at least five outside groups interested in taking over the hospital, said a transaction could expand the county’s health care services and impact Oktibbeha County’s economic development, infrastructure and education in the future; however, Hilton said losing local hospital control could have a negative impact to health care quality, the economy and job numbers.
The board approved a request for proposals from outside agencies to study OCH Regional Medical Center and determine if a sale or lease would be viable. The board has not approved any outside analysis as of its first July meeting. If the analysis deems a transaction appropriate, the board could then take requests and make a determination based on the best bid. The board could approve a transaction, but a petition of at least 1,500 registered voters could force the issue to a countywide vote.