Oktibbeha County District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer and OCH Regional Medical Center CEO Richard Hilton answer questions during a forum at the Greensboro Center in Starkville Wednesday evening. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
Community members listen during a Greater Starkville Development Partnership-hosted OCH Regional Medical Center forum Wednesday at the Greensboro Center in Starkville Wednesday.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
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October 12, 2017 10:51:47 AM
OCH Regional Medical Center CEO Richard Hilton revealed during a Greater Starkville Development Partnership-hosted forum Wednesday that the CEOs of two major hospital systems approached him about a possible affiliation with the hospital last year.
Those talks stalled when the county supervisors began studying a possible sale or lease of the 96-bed, county owned facility, but Hilton said they might move forward again if voters oppose allowing a sale in November 7's hospital referendum.
Written responses the hospital provided to questions asked at the forum reveal a third hospital system CEO recently approached Hilton with interest in a possible affiliation agreement. That system, the response said, is watching to see what happens in the Nov. 7 referendum.
An affiliation, Hilton said, would allow OCH to stay locally-owned while allowing services, provided by a larger system, that the hospital does not currently have.
"Affiliation is much different than a merger in that it allows for more local input," Hilton said. "An affiliation to be considered will allow OCH to remain under local control while expanding its services derived through mutually beneficial arrangements."
Hilton declined on Wednesday to identify the systems that approached OCH, noting the talks hadn't gone beyond the systems expressing interest, and saying he would first need to share more information with the hospital's board of trustees. Should the hospital remain under local control, he said, more information would likely come out.
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer joined Hilton on the Greensboro Center stage Wednesday. Trainer, who represented the supervisors during the forum, has been a consistent proponent of selling the hospital.
Memphis, Tennessee-based Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation and North Mississippi Health Services of Tupelo have submitted bids to purchase the hospital from Oktibbeha County. Trainer said an affirmative vote in the referendum does not guarantee a sale, but it will allow supervisors to push forward in the bidding process.
GSDP CEO Scott Maynard moderated the forum, during which Trainer and Hilton answered 20 questions submitted by the GSDP board and general public. While the forum was a neutral event, the GSDP board issued a letter in December opposing an OCH transaction.
Courtship vs. Arranged Marriage
During the forum, Trainer said OCH has outgrown the county, which can only provide limited support.
"If we continue to hold onto OCH, we're actually limiting it because the county has limited resources," Trainer said. "In my mind, I'm thinking that what we need to do is we need to find a partner who has more resources to bring to the table and also can do some things the county can't do."
Later on in the forum, Trainer said a potential sale could free the county from some of its financial burdens.
"Why would you pay for something that you probably can get better free if it's within the hands of somebody who has more resources to bring to the table and has a different perspective than what the county currently has?" he asked.
While there's no guarantee that an affiliation with a system would happen, Hilton bluntly stated his preference for that possibility, compared to a sale, during his closing remarks.
"Affiliation is like a courting process," he said. "You get to know each other and over a longer period of time. If it would be beneficial to look for a merger opportunity, at least it would be one where our stakeholders, board of trustees and medical staff could look at that from the standpoint of individuals who know what health care is about in the local community and not made by an outside consultant.
"A sale is like an arranged marriage where a large dowry and two ponies are given up," he added. "You do not know what you're getting and it may or may not work out for the bride."
Hilton said it only makes sense, to him, to consider a sale when a hospital is in a bankruptcy situation. He said OCH is not near that type of situation.
Trainer said he believes a transaction of a more financially healthy hospital is better for the citizens..
"If the hospital can cover everything it needs to cover without county support," Trainer said.
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