OCH Board of Trustees Chair Linda Breazeale speaks during a Tuesday afternoon meeting where the hospital announced an affiliation with University of Mississippi Medical Center. New OCH CEO Jim Jackson, left, listens to the discussion.
June 27, 2018 10:47:04 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville is partnering with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the hospital announced on Tuesday.
OCH, a 96-bed, county-owned facility, concluded the consideration of three hospital systems for affiliation on Tuesday with the announcement. In addition to the Jackson-based UMMC, OCH also considered affiliating with Baptist Memorial Health Services, of Memphis, and the Tupelo-based North Mississippi Health Services.
The hospital formally began affiliation considerations at the end of last year when the board of trustees authorized outgoing CEO Richard Hilton to gather information on possible affiliation partners. The three systems pitched affiliation to OCH by January, when the board began further considerations.
Hilton said the three systems each brought opportunities to the table, but OCH decided for UMMC in the end.
"It was a very tough decision," Hilton said. "There were a lot of good things from each of the systems out there. We felt, collectively, the best one for OCH at this time was the University Medical Center. That brings us to the culmination of a five-month process."
OCH and UMMC will hold a joint press conference on July 10, Hilton said, to announce further details of the partnership. He said there will be a 120-day period to work out contract details before the affiliation takes full effect.
An affiliation will allow OCH to reap the benefits of working with a larger system while remaining under local control. Working with UMMC should allow the hospital access to more and better care opportunities, hospital officials said. The affiliation will also allow UMMC to expand educational training programs for Mississippi practitioners by sending medical residents and fellows to OCH.
Hilton said those residents can work with the hospital's medical staff to deliver care, which will not only help bolster medical care but potentially offer an advantage in recruiting new physicians.
"If you get a doctor to come to Starkville, and they like it, you have an opportunity to keep them here," Hilton said.
UMMC Health Systems CEO Kevin Cook said in an issued statement that expanded access should allow more Oktibbeha County residents to get treatment locally, rather than having to leave the area.
"Our vision for the affiliation is to ensure OCH is the center of a vibrant and viable medical community for many years to come," he said.
OCH Board of Trustees Chairman Linda Breazeale said she liked that UMMC offers educational opportunities as well.
"I like that UMMC is a teaching hospital," she said. "I think that is something the people in Oktibbeha County understand -- the importance of an academic environment."
Incoming OCH CEO Jim Jackson, who the hospital named its new administrator on Monday, said he's looking forward to working with UMMC.
"I've had discussions with university representatives and Kevin Cook, even when I was in Greenwood about ways we could affiliate," Jackson said. "Now obviously Oktibbeha County was much further along in the process and has been able to reach this point and make this decision.
"I'm really looking forward to identifying an OCH team to work with the UMMC team to begin ironing out all the wrinkles in the affiliation," Jackson added. "I anticipate it going very well."
The affiliation decision caps an eventful few years for OCH, which saw an attempt by the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors to sell or lease the hospital thwarted by voters in an election last November. Hilton said multiple times throughout the election campaign that the uncertainty about OCH's future was a hindrance to the hospital's ability to recruit and a damper on staff morale.
Now, as he prepares to step down for Jackson to take his place, he said OCH is on firmer ground.
"I think it brings a settling," he said. "Where uncertainty was there in the past, now decisions are being made that should remove that doubt or uncertainty of what direction we're going."
UMMC is also affiliated with Anderson Hospital in Meridian, Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Oktibbeha County supervisors met with trustees on Tuesday before the hospital announced its decision. When contacted by The Dispatch, the supervisors generally expressed approval of the affiliation decision.
Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said he was "extremely surprised" that UMMC offered affiliation.
"I didn't think they had any interest in getting engaged," he said. "I don't know how that level of interest was developed or started.
"I wish it the best, because our people deserve the best possible healthcare we can get," Trainer later added. "If this is the best we can do at this time, I'm satisfied."
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said there seem to be advantages to the affiliation, but that he was still sifting through information and will need time to fully process the pros and cons.
District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams said he favors the affiliation as long as it addresses improvements to patient care and helps bolster OCH's revenue.
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller said she thought the meeting with the trustees was productive and added the affiliation should bring opportunities in improving the recruitment of doctors and specialists coming to the community. Improvements to billing systems and cost reductions through cost-sharing for OCH may also prove to be beneficial.
"I think it's a positive move for OCH in the fast-changing health care environment, for them to do the affiliation," Miller said. "I think it will only strengthen the quality of health care that OCH already offers through the resources UMMC has to offer our community."
District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard said he's excited about the affiliation.
"I think it's going to be a good working relationship," he said. "I'm satisfied that the trustees and administration put in the work to come up with what they thought is going to be best for Oktibbeha County."
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