By NATHAN GREGORY
Much like Monday’s educational session at the Oktibbeha County Courthouse, Thursday’s pro-OCH Regional Medical Center session also featured a high turnout.
Supporters came out to the Greenboro Center in droves for the meeting, which was organized by OCH proponent Frank Davis and featured CEO Richard Hilton as the speaker. After a presentation, Hilton fielded questions from attendees, most of which echoed Davis’ support of keeping the hospital under county ownership.
Family practitioner Steven Brandon, who works at OCH-affiliated Family Clinic, said citizens should look to hospital, city and county leaders to collaborate and discuss what the community wants for OCH.
“I think we can very easily address those matters in open discussion like we’ve started, but to rush that process right now … and make a decision rushed about whether to sell the hospital or not, I think it’s way premature,” Brandon said. “If we sell it and lose it, it’s gone. You’ve lost your control over it and that will be that. You will not be able to get it back again.”
Starkville resident Michael Lightsey referred to Baker Donelson Health Law Department chairman Richard Cowart’s presentation at Monday’s session in which he discussed the city of Oxford’s decision to sell its hospital to Baptist Memorial Hospital and the benefits it experienced as a result.
“We saw that real positive side and to me, it was looking at it through rose-colored glasses. You’’ve (Hilton) done a good job tonight of telling us what we’ve got and what your vision is for us,” Lightsey said. “If we’re going to continue to go through this process, I’d like to hear somewhere from a group that has experienced this. I know somewhere down the line there have got to be some downsides. I would like for supervisors to go through the next next step of the education process and bring some of that in. There could be a positive side or a downside. We’re taking a big risk. We know what we’ve got. There are projections of what we can have, but we haven’t even been told what could happen from somebody that has experienced that.”
One unidentified person questioned Davis himself on why he wasn’t willing to talk about how the hospital is handled and how it’s run.
“(You want to) keep OCH as is. Yeah, fine, it is good. It would be great to learn more about it and know there are some good things here,” he said. “An evaluations the supervisors were talking about I think is a reasonable thing to do and just find out what’s the lay of the land and what possible improvements should be made. You seem to be against that.”
Davis responded by saying that having open education forums is what he wanted to do, and he was not against looking into evaluations.
“We’d love to have a few more educational meetings about OCH. I don’t think OCH is going to stand still. To look at what OCH has done (since 1973), look at the number of doctors we have now; look at the number of specialties. I can remember when Hospital Road was a pasture and a forest, and now I look at it from Hiwassee (Drive) all the way to Jackson Street. It makes me mighty proud to know that our hospital and the trustees and supervisors have supported a hospital and to see the growth there has been,” Davis said. “The more I’ve worked with these people over the past few weeks and have gotten to know Richard (Hilton) … I know that I’m mighty pleased that we have people like that working for us. If we sell to the highest bidder, we’re selling a gem. Let’s say we sold it and five to 10 years we found out we made a terrible mistake. This is what worries me. I don’t think we could come back this way and re-establish OCH as a county hospital if we make that mistake.”
Another unidentified commentator referred to Cowart’s use of the word “privatize” in his presentation Monday.
“Privatize is a very soft word. It’s non-threatening, but what he really meant was if we sell this hospital to a for-profit hospital, that’s going to be different. I asked myself ‘What would a for-profit hospital want to do? Why would they come here? Is it to improve the service, or is it as their name implies — to make a profit?’ It’s obvious to me they need to make a profit at the expense of service,” he said.
Johnnie Sue Wijewardane, a nurse not affiliated with OCH, said after the meeting that she believes the hospital delivers “excellent care.”
“As a recipient of that care myself, and with family members … we’ve always been pleased with the care in comparison to other places. As a nurse, I’ve worked in facilities all across the southeast, including Vanderbilt and Emory … I believe our care at OCH is second to none,” she said, “You will be hard-pressed to find better nursing care overall anywhere. I believe you can go anywhere and have a good health care experience and I believe you can go anywhere and have a bad health care experience. I think since … money goes back into improvements, I think it would be foolish to get rid of our county gem.”