Crucial vote possible on hospital

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – An agreement could be reached Monday for Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation to buy the existing hospital in Oxford.
Lafayette County supervisors are expected to vote Monday morning on a Memorandum of Understanding among the county, the city of Oxford and Baptist. Oxford aldermen approved an MOU in May.
Many issues remain essentially as they were early in the negotiation process: The purchase would cancel the remaining 23 years on Baptist’s lease with the city and county, Baptist would build a replacement hospital for at least $250 million and most medical services would remain at or above their present levels. Baptist would agree not to transfer any beds away from the new hospital through 2034, when the lease would have ended.
Baptist also agreed earlier this year to build within the existing city limits of Oxford after the Memphis-based system was shown to have surreptitiously bought a tract outside the city.
Even after two years of negotiation, some community members say there are unanswered questions about the process.
One focuses on the purchase price. After assertions arose that the former Batesville hospital had brought a higher price than the $60 million Baptist is offering for the larger Oxford facility, both supervisors and aldermen agreed to seek a new valuation, but that effort was scuttled before aldermen voted on May 17.
Another concern that Baptist turned down was the inclusion of a psychiatric unit in the new hospital. Even if patients in crisis were only given minimal treatment and kept safe until they could be transferred to psychiatric hospitals in Tupelo, Memphis or Jackson, critics say such a unit would spare patients from being held in jail, where their conditions often worsen.
Some observers assert that Baptist owes the city and county $47 million of “excess revenues” already accumulated over costs, which the lease requires be reinvested for health-related benefit of the city and county. The MOU declares those funds eligible to be invested directly in the new hospital, but critics say that clause essentially lets the Memphis-based hospital system use money already owed to the city and county to build a facility whose excess revenues will no longer accrue to the benefit of city and county after the purchase.
Yet another concern frequently mentioned are the remedies afforded to the city and/or county if Baptist is unable to secure a state-issued Certificate of Need for the new hospital or fails for any other reason to build the replacement hospital. Under the MOU, Baptist would have to pay an additional $30 million and reinstate the reinvestment of excess revenues through May 31, 2034, but it would have until May 31, 2039, to reinvest those revenues, and it would retain the hospital building without further contractual obligation.
District 2 Supervisor Johnny Morgan said he’s perturbed that among other unanswered questions, his proposal for all parties in the negotiations to refrain from any economic relationship with Baptist for five years was ignored.
“I thought it was good, and we passed it 5-0, but I still don’t see that language in the MOU,” he said. “Obviously, it has fallen on deaf ears of whoever is doing the drawing up.”
Several Baptist officials are expected to be at Monday’s meeting, which will be at 9 a.m. at the Chancery Building.
Given re-election challenges this year, supervisors may be feeling extra pressure to approve an agreement by voters unaware of its complexities.
“In my opinion, this process was premeditated to be timed for just before an election, but we’ve massaged it about all we can,” Morgan said. “I feel like the dog fighting the skunk: I’ve fought it about all I can stand.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.