July 10, 2014 11:04:11 AM
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer again called for a sit-down meeting with OCH Regional Medical Center trustees to discuss the hospital's financial future.
Trainer, who made similar calls to investigate OCH's financial shape in the past three years, said a third-party assessment of the hospital's revenues, expenditures and long-term plans could help position it and the county strategically for the future.
He last called for such discussions in April and again in fall 2013, but a meeting date never materialized. Again, a formal meeting date was not announced Monday when Trainer brought up the topic, and it was still not set today.
Hospital administrator Richard Hilton was preparing to leave town on a trip Wednesday and was unavailable for comment.
If the full five-person board of supervisors and seven-member hospital board do meet for formal discussions, it would be the first of its kind in years.
Trainer drew pointed criticism in the past three years for numerous attempts to conduct an outside financial study as its completion would be the first step mandated by law for a potential sale or lease of the county-owned facility.
Since taking office, the board requested proposals for such a study but stopped short of authorizing an analysis due to political pressure. OCH supporters came in droves to each board meeting addressing the topic and held their own public forums highlighting how the community benefits from OCH. A grassroots process collecting signatures against a transaction was begun by Frank and the late Carole McReynolds Davis, a move hospital supporters hoped would push a transaction to the ballots for public approval.
Tensions slowly cooled but remerged again last year when Tennessee-based Capella Healthcare offered $45 million in upfront cash for a 50-year lease. Then, the offer was considered moot since the board had no appetite to approve a financial analysis.
Trainer said if all sides can keep their emotions in check and agree to a financial study, OCH can position itself to deliver quality health care services into the future, while the county can remain good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
"I want us, as a board, to approach this issue very cautiously. We don't want to start anything that will get emotional and get out of hand similar to the last experience we had. It wasn't a bad overall experience, but we still have to have these conversations," he said. "This isn't about a sale or a lease, rather what we can do from a strategic point to see how we can remain viable and functional. To do so, we need a true strategic assessment from a third-party source. With everything that's going on - consolidation, potential economic development bonds - you can very well say the county should just raise taxes every year, but that's not something the board wants to do. I believe there are more ways to be efficient, and those lie within the hospital. I believe all sides in this equation - now, I might be naive - can come out ahead with these discussions."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch