Baptist Health Care eager for new hospital decision

By Errol Castens / NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Leaders of Baptist Memorial Health Care will meet with Lafayette County and Oxford officials Monday night in hopes of concluding negotiations over building a new $250 million hospital in Oxford.
The open meeting will be at the Oxford Conference Center at 6 p.m.
The city and county jointly own the current hospital and its state-required certificate of need. Baptist has leased the hospital for nearly 30 years and has more than 20 years left on its current lease.
It has asked to buy the current building so that it can build a new facility, saying that further expansion is impossible on the 13-acre site.
Early in the negotiations, officials from all three entities expected an agreement long before now. Some people have accused county supervisors of dragging their feet, and District 1 Supervisor Mike Pickens, who led the board’s decision in December to open all further negotiations to the public, said Friday that “the county has not been obstructionist in any way.”
Supervisors early on appointed a committee of health care professionals, chaired by the former hospital administrator, to advise it on issues that should be discussed with Baptist. Some of its recommendations were apparently a sticking point for a time, but Pickens declined to identify them.
“Everything up to this point has been a mutual understanding that we wouldn’t disclose anything, but at the same time, all this will come out Monday night,” he said. “Baptist has met all the concerns we had, so apparently they were good ideas.”
Hospital administrator Don Hutson noted Baptist officials’ eagerness to begin the project.
The system “has committed a significant amount of dollars to build a new hospital,” he said, chalking up the lengthy negotiations to each side’s due diligence.
He added, however, “We’re approaching that time when we do need a decision so our organization can decide whether to keep those funds so designated.”
Pickens said the supervisors will be in official session, so they may be able to vote on an agreement Monday.
Oxford Mayor George “Pat” Patterson said city leaders would likely delay a vote until their next regular meeting on Feb. 1.
“We would like to work with Baptist and see this project become a reality,” he said. “There are details to be worked out, but we wholeheartedly believe it would be a huge benefit for this community.”

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.