November 15, 2017 11:03:31 AM
Oktibbeha County supervisors will seek a Mississippi Attorney General's opinion on whether they can impose a moratorium on further county efforts to sell OCH Regional Medical Center after last week's special election halted their efforts to sell.
The board voted 4-1, with Board President and District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer opposing, to seek the opinion.
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery, who indicated before the meeting he'd like the county to look into the matter, raised the issue.
"I'm not trying to stifle discussion," he said. "But at the same time I'm trying to make it a fair environment so that each party can move on. I think that's the best thing. I'm not talking a time frame -- maybe five years or more. There have been discussions of five to 10. That's open to discussion, but now I think it's imperative that we get an Attorney General's opinion on what we can do and what we can't do."
Last week, voters, by a margin of roughly 58 percent to 41 percent, opposed the sale of the county owned hospital. Supervisors were in the midst of an 18-month process to seek bids for the 96-bed facility, but a petition forced the matter to a vote.
Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation and North Mississippi Health Services, two nonprofit health systems, submitted bids to purchase OCH.
With the vote decidedly against the sale of the hospital, Montgomery said, the county and OCH need to move on to help create a "time of peace" and focus on other matters.
Trainer questioned whether the AG's opinion would ultimately be needed, and told The Dispatch he thought the opinion would be "fruitless."
"I think that right now, that particular process lies within the hands of the board of supervisors and it can be resurrected at any time," Trainer said. "But at the same time, we do understand how things go. I don't think there's going to be any energy as it relates to something that has taken a lot of energy."
The Dispatch has previously reported that supervisors have spent more than $400,000 on efforts to sell the hospital.
In the meantime, hospital trustees have authorized CEO Richard Hilton to pursue information on possible affiliation options with a larger system. Hilton has said three hospital system CEOs approached him about affiliation opportunities, but those talks never panned out due to the uncertainty around OCH's future.
While it's not yet publicly known what systems approached OCH about affiliation, Baptist has indicated to The Dispatch it would be interested in an affiliation if OCH wants one.
During Tuesday's meeting, Trainer suggested supervisors could see if an affiliation partner would be willing to assume some or all of OCH's roughly $24 million in outstanding debt.
"If that would give the county some relief or some return, that's something we ought to consider, if it can be legally done," Trainer said.
Other board members, including District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, pushed back on the idea.
"Now since the citizens have said keep OCH, I think we should step back, allow OCH -- the administration and the board of trustees -- to discuss with possible affiliation partners," Howard said. "Let them do the due diligence. Let them gather information. Let them talk back and forth with what they would like to see happen, and then report back to the board.
"At this point, I think we as a board of supervisors need to concentrate on something else besides OCH hospital and let OCH hospital -- the board of trustees that we appointed and hospital administration -- let them discuss an affiliation deal," Howard added. "That's not our discussion until they report back to us."
Trainer also indicated he's looking to nominate a trustee to represent his position on the hospital trustee board, which has been vacant since former District 2 trustee Fenton Peters died in 2014. Trainer said he'll have a recommendation "very soon."
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