Hospital silent on relocation rumors

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Rumors about locations for a proposed new regional hospital are now centered on a tract of more than 100 acres on state Highway 6, just west of the Oxford city limits.
Black Bear Land Co. of Southaven, which was incorporated in December, bought the land in two tracts Feb. 11 from Hernando-based BWG Development, which itself had just purchased the land.
The current Baptist Memorial Hospital is owned jointly by the city of Oxford and Lafayette County.
Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. of Memphis has a long-term lease on the facility but is asking permission to buy it and its state-issued certificate of need in order to build a new hospital of at least $250 million.
Soon after the Black Bear Land purchase, speculation began circulating by e-mail and social networks about its possibilities as a site for the new hospital, but Hospital Administrator Don Hutson has declined to confirm or deny interest in any particular sites.
“We realize there’s a lot of interest in the community about the site selection,” he said. “We’re excited about the momentum, but unfortunately, it’s too early for us to discuss specific sites. The negotiations need to be completed with the county and the city.”
Two other sites have been disclosed by their owner or representative as candidates for the hospital:
n The Oxford Commons multi-use development off Highway 7, about 2.5 miles northeast of the existing hospital and the neighboring clinics, nursing homes and health care-related businesses.
n A 64-acre tract bordered by Highway 7, Lamar Boulevard and County Road 320, about 1.5 miles south of the hospital.
“From a selfish standpoint, it would be better to relocate to Highway 7 South, and I think a lot of doctors would agree with that,” said Dr. John Laurenzo, an ear-nose-throat physician whose office is about 2/3-mile south of the current hospital.
“From a congestion standpoint, I can see some argument for going out west, as long as they do something to connect the west end of town to this area … a second bypass south of the current bypass. That’s what it would take to make that work.”
In an advertisement in Sunday’s Daily Journal, a group that calls itself Concerned Citizens of Oxford and Lafayette County asked the city’s mayor and aldermen and county supervisors to use their influence to keep the new hospital in “the heart of the community.”
Among other concerns, the ad asked that officials not commit to any agreement with Baptist without making sure that the new location will be close to schools, elder care facilities, multiple access routes, and fire and police protection.
It also asked for a site inside city limits that could not easily be isolated by “one serious automobile accident, one weather-related phenomenon, any number of potential disaster or emergency circumstances or, less speculatively, seven Ole Miss home football games.”
Flick Ash was in the state House of Representatives when the Legislature voted to locate North Mississippi Retardation (now Regional) Center in Oxford.
“(O)ne of the main reasons that I pressed for Oxford was because the Oxford site would be close to the hospital,” he wrote in a letter to the editor.
Ash was chairman of the State Veterans Affairs Board when Oxford won a State Veterans Home location.
“Our conviction was based largely on the State Veterans Home being near the Oxford hospital,” he wrote.
Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson said he think it’s premature to conclude that the Highway 6 location is Baptist’s choice, but he acknowledges arguments both for and against the site.
“I think they’re looking at a 50- to 75-year plan,” he said. “They know how to locate hospitals, and we don’t, but it does give me some concern.”
Lafayette County Board of Supervisors President Lloyd Oliphant, who learned of the prospect of the Highway 6 location from media reports, said Baptist officials have not followed up on promises to keep him and Patterson informed about the site search.
“Pat and I were supposed to have a preliminary update, if you will, and that meeting was canceled. The next thing I heard about the location was in the news media,” Oliphant said. “It had been my understanding that the city and the county would be kept in the loop on the anticipation of the location of the new facility.”
The city and county boards will hold a joint meeting at 9 a.m. today to discuss hospital negotiations.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.