Oktibbeha County supervisors unanimously began a process Monday to hire a strategic analyst and study OCH Regional Medical Center’s financial outlook and overall services in the coming months.
The county is expected to issue a request for proposals for the service soon. In a 5-0 vote, supervisors tasked consultant Frederick Woodrell, who the board previously hired to assist in the process, to help develop the document and work with OCH representatives to develop a shortlist of candidates.
The process to select an independent, unbiased firm could conclude in late July or August, Woodrell said, and an overall strategic analysis could be completed this fall.
Public forums and discussions on the financial analysis and its recommendations are expected to follow.
“That doesn’t mean that they get to dictate what the outcomes are, but they’ll sure have good, solid input and be part of that group that makes that determination to where we get an objective, qualified consultant to do the job,” Woodrell said.
The study is the first step required by law before a county or municipal body can pursue a sale or lease of a government-owned health care facility.
Mississippi Code requires a study conduct, at a minimum, certain reviews, like the community’s in-patient facility needs, the area market’s needs for services, hospital strengths relative to competition and its options, including service mixture and pricing strategy.
Woodrell recommended the addition of two other deliverables to the study: a quality care comparison of the hospital’s performance with state, regional and national benchmarks and recommendations of possible actions moving forward.
A full study could cost $30,000-$50,000, Woodrell estimated.
Last month, OCH Chief Executive Officer Richard Hilton said he was not afraid of opening the hospital’s books up for an outside review and said the issue of whether or not to sell the hospital “has to come to a close” soon.
Before Monday’s vote, supervisors stressed the importance for OCH and the county to work together during the process. District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, who previously resisted District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer’s attempt to start the analysis process, said a study should “give (OCH) the deserved credibility they need” moving forward.
“It’s been long pressed here in this community — ‘Do we or do we not?'” said District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery. “We need to all move in this together. Let’s keep everything above the (table) moving forward, be respectful of each other and do what’s best for the community.”
A once-quiet issue, the future of OCH again became a talking point this year when District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer renewed a previous push to study the hospital and determine its long-term viability.
OCH trustees invited supervisors for discussions last month after county officials asked for — and didn’t receive — such a meeting this spring.
During May’s meeting, tensions ran high as hospital representatives questioned Trainer’s motives, vouched for their own yearly audits and said continuing to put doubt over OCH’s future affects recruitment and retention efforts.
Trustees grilled Trainer over his intentions and took him to task over his inability to fill a vacant trustee seat from District 2 for over a year.
He deflected their criticism, saying it would be irresponsible for supervisors not to look at their options as the economics of health care continue to evolve. Trainer also said he wanted a hospital system that could operate “with very little tax support,” since overall financial restrictions keep supervisors from paving roads, improving infrastructure and providing other services.
“You have some (hospitals) that have some level of county support, but most of them that are doing well … they have no tax support,” he said last month. “They’re able to do things we can’t do here.”
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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