Since Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors decided to seek proposals for a comprehensive OCH Regional Medical Center financial analysis, officials on both sides of a potential hospital transaction say they are stuck in a holding pattern with the whole situation.
No official board meetings on the matter are currently scheduled, but Board President Orlando Trainer says he will continue to make improving county health care a top priority.
Last week, representatives from the Ridgeland-based Horne CPAs and Business Advisors gave a presentation to supervisors about what a comprehensive evaluation would entail. The board took no official action on the matter. Horne representative Barry Plunkett said the group responded to the county’s proposal notification and a baseline analysis would cost approximately $35,000.
If the county chooses to pursue a hospital transaction, Mississippi law states a comprehensive financial analysis is needed before sale or lease proposals are issued.
Although a majority of the board — District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery, District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams and Trainer — previously voted to seek proposals for such an analysis, Montgomery later came out against any potential OCH transaction.
“We’re at a great juncture because we’re really trying to convince the board to do its due diligence. I also think the emotional side of this is waning some because I’m not getting calls in reference to abandoning the process. Now, I’m getting more calls from constituents calling for us to continue the process,” Trainer said. “As leaders, we need to do due diligence to determine best direction for Oktibbeha County.”
While Trainer still seeks board majority to continue the process, OCH CEO Richard Hilton said dragging the situation out casts doubt over the hospital’s future, which in turn affects physician recruitment and employee morale.
“There’s a high level of anxiety about the future of the hospital and a continuing flux of unrest about when this is going to pop up again,” he said. “When we’re looking at recruiting and this situation comes back up, doctors notice that. When they hear elected leaders talk about selling the hospital, they have questions about what kind of situation they would be getting into here.
“We don’t need that anxiety being in the background all the time,” Hilton added. “We need to be forward focused. There are enough challenges for all hospitals in the state as far as delivering health care without this type of issue constantly coming up.”
Both Hilton and Frank Davis, a member of a grassroots organization opposing any hospital transaction, said they will continue to monitor the situation, attend county board meetings and react accordingly to any consensus reached by supervisors. Although the situation seems to have little traction, Davis said, pro-OCH supporters are continuing to gather petition signatures which could force any potential transaction to a countywide vote.
“I feel kind of bad for the guys who came all the way from Jackson. There were about 30 of us (hospital supporters) there at the meeting and no one else around who supports continuing the process. They were really just talking to one side,” Davis said in reference to last week’s board meeting. “We don’t know what Orlando’s next step is going to be. He really can’t do much as long as those three votes stay solid.”
Even if the traction Trainer once had continues to fade, he says the hospital question will always remain because of current tax implications and future funding issues associated with the Affordable Care Act.
“If we never get the support to move forward, I don’t think that will take away from our efforts to really look at county health care. As we move forward, the issue will always come back because this boils down to a question of future resources,” Trainer said, referring to future uncertainty associated with new health care laws. “My goal at the end of the day with this and other issues we face is to make sure things are better when my time expires on the board than they were when I began.”