STARKVILLE — Former Starkville Alderman Frank Davis says he’s once again prepared launch a door-to-door petition drive in Oktibbeha County in an effort to force any potential OCH Regional Medical Center transaction to a countywide vote.
While supervisors have not yet agreed sell or lease the publicly owned medical facility, Davis and other OCH supporters are gearing up for a public relations surge similar to efforts in 2012, when the county last toyed with the idea of selling the hospital.
Previously, Davis and his grassroots movement procured about 2,000 signatures from residents, which would have placed the final decision on a transaction in the hands of Oktibbeha County voters. State statute requires 1,500 qualified residents to force such a vote, and Davis overshot the target to provide a cushion for any names that were disqualified.
Davis, who supports keeping OCH under county control, said residents, not the five-member board of supervisors, should decide whether to pursue a sale or lease.
“We’re going to make sure that we’re not going to allow the supervisors to sell our hospital, because those five people do not own OCH. We, the people, own OCH,” he said. “The people of Oktibbeha County have to make that decision. …I believe we’ll see many people wanting OCH to stay as it is.”
Report: Seek proposals
Oktibbeha County is further along in the process that could yield a transaction than it was in 2012.
Then, supervisors authorized a request for proposals to conduct an analysis but did not go through with the report.
This year, supervisors tasked the Tennessee-based consulting firm Stroudwater Associates with studying OCH’s finances, market positioning and services, and also asked the group to recommend pathways for making the hospital more viable.
Stroudwater’s report recommended supervisors “explore transactions as soon as it is practical” while the hospital continues to improve its sustainability in case a sale or lease option isn’t available.
Citing the hospital’s lack of service scale, weak market positioning and margins, outmigration of patients and quality scores versus cost position as “compromising OCH’s future trajectory,” the report said investments in satellite clinics and systems needed for new payment models, operational improvement and the development of aligned clinical services in specialty areas could improve its long-term viability.
Having proposals in hand, Stroudwater representatives said, will allow the board of supervisors to truly compare its options moving forward.
The hospital could fetch between $20 million and $60 million in a deal, consultant Jeffrey Sommer said. OCH Chief Executive Officer Richard Hilton contested the findings Monday, saying OCH “is operated based upon what we can do for the community,” not on benchmarks compared to the top 100 small hospitals in America.
After Stroudwater’s report and recommendations were made public Monday, Hilton said he would seek guidance from the OCH board of trustees and move forward accordingly.
In 2012, OCH partnered with Davis’ grassroots effort and other supporters to hold public forums and informational sessions on the hospital and the impact of a potential sale or lease, while administrators also opened the hospital’s doors during open houses in an effort to showcase the facility’s footprint in the community.
Similar efforts are expected if traction grows for a potential sale or lease of the hospital.
Supervisors are also expected to hold a public hearing on the hospital report in about three weeks.
If supervisors request proposals for a transaction and decide to move forward in the process, the board must adopt a resolution of intent that lists why such a sale or lease is in the best interest of Oktibbeha County residents.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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