OCH Regional Medical Center CEO Richard Hilton, center, smiles upon hearing the results of Tuesday's vote on the sale of the hospital. Nearly 60 percent of voters opposed selling OCH. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
November 8, 2017 10:50:31 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
OCH Regional Medical Center will remain a county owned hospital after Oktibbeha County's voters chose to oppose the facility's sale.
Tuesday's election results, with walk-up and absentee votes counted, showed 5,651 people voting against the sale of the hospital, or 58.55 percent of the vote, and 4,000 people (41.45 percent) voting for it.
Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Angie McGinnis said 201 affidavit ballots remain to be counted today.
The vote is the culmination of a process that began last year, when county supervisors started considering selling or leasing the 96-bed facility. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation and North Mississippi Health Services, two nonprofit hospital systems, bid on the hospital earlier this fall.
OCH CEO Richard Hilton, after seeing Tuesday's results, said he was thankful to the hospital staff for working through the uncertainty of the hospital's future, and to those who supported keeping the hospital locally owned.
Hilton said he hopes supervisors will move on from the matter in the wake of the divisive election.
"The community is divided right now," Hilton said. "It's been torn apart. Any efforts to continue in that regard, I think, would just drive that wedge deeper. I think we need to come together and let's work together and make this hospital the best it can be."
Hilton said he will meet with the hospital board of trustees today. He plans to ask them if hospital administration should look into affiliation with a larger system.
At a forum before the election, Hilton revealed the CEOs of three hospital systems approached OCH last year about possible affiliation, but those talks stalled as supervisors began the process to sell or lease the hospital.
Affiliation could offer a partnership with a larger system to provide more services while keeping the hospital locally owned.
"I just did not have an opportunity when I felt like I could progressively really look at the affiliation process in a realistic manner and be able to put it before the trustees and for them to really consider anything," he said. "Because if it was going to be the will of the people to sell this hospital, there would be no need to even consider affiliation.
"I want to ask for their direction," he added. "If that's what they would like administration to move forward on, I will take that opportunity and re-contact those CEOs who approached me."
Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer, who has pushed for OCH's sale multiple times, expressed some disappointment with the results. Still, he said he was optimistic for the future.
"It is what it is," Trainer said. "We never know how votes will go until that last one comes in. I still think we've got a great opportunity to do something significant in the county. Either way, the county is in a good position."
Still, Trainer said he thinks the county should "consider all of our options" for the hospital. He said affiliation, which Hilton has mentioned as a possibility for OCH after three system CEOs approached him last year, is one possible outcome.
Whatever happens, Trainer stopped short of saying supervisors won't seek another hospital sale after Tuesday's results.
"The question of whether to sell or lease the hospital can always come up as long as you own the hospital," he said. "That's not something that goes away."
Trainer expressed some frustrations at what he described as people getting emotional and not thinking about the long-term best interest of the county.
"At the end of the day, we need to have some long range vision instead of being emotional and short-sighted," Trainer said. "A lot of people got emotional. They went out and voted, and of course you can see the result of the vote."
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller, speaking to The Dispatch, said she believes the election, which she acknowledged was an emotional process, has been good for the community.
"When you look at the voices heard tonight, that's an eye-opening percentage that thinks you need to do something with your health care," she said. "When you have 42 percent of the people that think they need something different, you need to make some changes. I think this is a chance to use this to enhance ourselves."
Miller, like Trainer, stopped short of saying supervisors won't pursue another sale. She added the vote is just a manifestation of public perception. Whether that perception is correct, she said, will take a few years to see.
She added she thinks the county should look at different ways to pursue affiliation.
"Just because the vote passed, your validation is going to come with the action after and whether it's successful," Miller said. "With all the changes to healthcare, who's to say what's going to happen?"
1. As anchor tenants depart, a Starkville shopping center sees opportunity STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
3. Columbus turns to consultant for leadership building COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. CPD will go longer without an assistant chief COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Vibrant Church's $14M expansion nearly complete COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY