OCH, UMMC highlight affiliation goals

July 10, 2018 10:12:45 AM

Alex Holloway - [email protected]


OCH Regional Medical Center and the University of Mississippi Medical Center hope partnering can improve health care in Oktibbeha County. 


That was the general theme of a joint press conference held during an affiliation celebration to mark the partnership between the two hospitals. 


Last month, OCH board trustees announced its selection of UMMC as an affiliation partner. The hospital has been considering affiliation since 2016 -- a process put on hold in the lead-up to an election on whether to allow county supervisors to sell or lease the county-owned facility to a private nonprofit. Affiliation talks picked up again after voters decided to keep the hospital locally owned.  


The affiliation will allow OCH to partner with UMMC for improved services and benefits, without giving up the hospital's local ownership. 


UMMC CEO Kevin Cook, present at Monday's celebration, said the changing health care landscape is putting pressure on physicians and hospitals everywhere. He said small, community hospitals feel those pressures particularly acutely. 


"We at UMMC recognize the pressure local hospitals are under," Cook said. "We recognize how difficult it is to pay for an electronic medical record or find money for new equipment or new service lines the residents need. Dollars are short and the list of service needs are long." 


New OCH CEO Jim Jackson said the hospital is no stranger to the challenges of rural health care. He said the hospital faces the same challenges many other hospitals do, from declining reimbursements for the same services to declining volumes and increased operational costs. 


As part of the affiliation, Cook said OCH will offer several benefits. For one, UMMC purchases supplies at a higher volume than OCH and can get discounts the local hospital couldn't secure on its own. He said UMMC aims also to help OCH implement a new electronic health record system. 


Cook said the affiliation should also see new offerings in terms of medical services for the hospital's patients. 


"Certainly that's the goal over time," Cook said. "We're going to work with the medical staff to assess what the needs are and ... we'll take a look at what opportunities there are to bring additional medical staff to the region." 




Developing the details 


OCH and UMMC will spend the next four months ironing out the specifics of the affiliation agreement. OCH is presently crafting a five-year contract with options for renewals, according to information presented at Monday's event.  


The contract will also have options for either party to withdraw before the end of the contract period, if necessary.  


Jackson said a master affiliation agreement should be complete sooner than four months, and the extended work will fill in the details. 


"I am sure that we will quickly, as soon as possible, get that done," Jackson said. 


According to the same information presented at the meeting, OCH is not paying UMMC for the affiliation.  


While UMMC and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Mississippi and UMMC are mediating an insurance agreement, those discussions will have no impact on OCH's status with BCBSMS. The hospitals have separate contracts with the insurance provider. 




Help with manpower, recruitment 


As part of the affiliation, UMMC can send physicians in residence to train at OCH by working alongside the hospital's medical staff. Todd Smith, OCH's past medical chief of staff and an orthopedic surgeon at Starkville Orthopedic, said working at a community hospital is beneficial for residents because it exposes them to the more common issues they may see when they practice. He said specialized training centers tend to expose students to more complicated, rare conditions. 


"They'll get to see the gamut of the common things that are encountered, but being at the academic medical center, they'll get to see the more rare things," he said. "It will produce, I think, a more well-rounded doctor once they're through with their training." 


Smith said it will also give OCH more manpower and should help with future recruitment. 


"Already in under-served areas, we need more people -- boots on the ground, so to speak," he said. "That will benefit the hospital and potentially allow us to showcase the hospital and help with physician recruitment."

Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.