November 13, 2017 11:40:26 AM
Two Oktibbeha County Supervisors are voicing their support for a moratorium on county efforts to sell OCH Regional Medical Center after last week's referendum.
County voters, by a margin of 58.55 percent to 41.45 percent, voted against the sale of the county owned hospital last Tuesday. The vote ended a contentious, nearly year-and-a-half long process that started when supervisors began seeking a potential sale or lease of the hospital.
With the vote concluded, District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said he plans to raise the issue of a moratorium on efforts to sale the hospital when supervisors meet Tuesday at 10 a.m.
"We need to go with the will of the people," Montgomery said. "Around 60 percent said to keep our hospital. I think the best thing we can do for OCH is to let it breathe and give it some space.
"... (A)t this point, we're wasting our time, our effort, our money and it takes away from what is our responsibility as supervisors to create an economic environment that's conducive to new businesses," he added.
The Dispatch previously reported county supervisors have spent more than $400,000 on the sale of the hospital.
District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, who has previously expressed support for a moratorium if the vote goes against OCH's sale, said he thinks the board should "strongly" consider the step.
"I think we need to take every step we possibly can toward bringing the county back together," Howard said. "That was a contentious election, a long election and a hard-fought election with hard emotions on both sides. I think it would go a long ways toward saying we're putting this issue behind us and coming together to move forward and save our healthcare in Oktibbeha County."
Howard added he believes the county needs to move forward without the "cloud" of uncertainty about a possible hospital sale hanging over the county.
Montgomery, likewise, said it would be beneficial for the hospital to have some stability for a while.
"It will help in recruitment of new doctors," he said. "At this point, it's over. The war is over, and I kind of liken it to coming out of your bunkers. There will be disagreements and debates. There will be tough questions the hospital will have to face, but I think (Hospital CEO Richard Hilton) is up to the challenge and so is OCH."
Montgomery said he'll likely suggest the county seek an Attorney General's opinion as to whether it can introduce a moratorium on the hospital's sale.
Similarly, he said he doesn't want to block any potentially positive changes at the hospital. For example, OCH's board of trustees recently authorized Hilton to gather information on affiliation opportunities.
"I would just want to make it where we can't start this costly, time-consuming divisive process," Montgomery said. "I want to focus on the things that are good in the community. There are a lot of good things in this community. Our major issue right now is trying to keep up with good growth."
Affiliation could give the hospital more options for services through a partnership with a larger system, while maintaining local ownership.
Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation, one of two nonprofit systems that bid to purchase OCH, indicated to The Dispatch it would be interested in an affiliation with OCH if the hospital desires one. North Mississippi Health Services, the other system that bid on the hospital, has not commented on a possible affiliation.
Hilton said three hospital systems have approached him about a possible affiliation.
After the election, Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer and District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller stopped short of saying the county wouldn't attempt to sell OCH again. Trainer, who has pushed for years to sell the hospital, said the sale or lease option "can always come up" as long as the county owns the hospital.
"That's not something that goes away," Trainer said.
Miller, who has also pushed for the sale, said it will take time to determine whether the vote to keep the hospital locally owned was the right decision.
Howard said he thinks both supervisors will ultimately respect the will of the people.
"Especially just after elections, emotions are running high and feelings are at the forefront," he said. "I predict, moving forward that supervisors Trainer and Miller will do what's best for Oktibbeha and respect the decision the voters have made. I would be surprised if they didn't."
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