Lafayette board OKs open hospital negotiations

By ERROL CASTENS / Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Lafayette County supervisors voted unanimously on Monday to make all further negotiations over a proposed new facility for Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi open to the public.
Memphis-based Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. holds a 24-year lease on the existing hospital facility in Oxford, which is jointly owned by the city of Oxford and Lafayette County.
Baptist hopes to negotiate a buyout of the lease so it can build a new facility, whose location is officially not decided but which zoning changes indicate could be south of the Oxford Conference Center.
District 1 Supervisor Mike Pickens said details from the closed-door negotiations have been misrepresented to the local media.
“When you get onto a deal of this magnitude, a lot of times sensationalism and propaganda leads the way, and I don’t want that to be the case with the deal we’re in the process of making with Baptist,” he said. “I want the facts to be fully open to the people and openly recorded so the people will be as knowledgeable as they can be about the negotiations we’re holding with Baptist. My motion is to hold all future negotiations with Baptist in an open forum unless our attorney recommends that we go into executive session.”
Board of Supervisors President Lloyd Oliphant agreed.
“The perception that I got and the perception the others got who called me was that the county, for whatever reason, had put stumbling blocks or stalled the process intentionally or something,” Oliphant said. “Nothing could be further from the truth: I think from the standpoint of a timeline on the process that we’ve expedited each and every turn appropriately.”
Hospital administrator Don Hutson said he would welcome the county’s new condition for talks.
“We have absolutely no problem with them being in an open setting,” he said.
He did disagree with Oliphant’s assessment of the schedule.
“Baptist made its proposal to the city and county, and we knew they would need to take their time doing their due diligence,” Hutson said. “Part of the proposal was a suggested timeline; we’re clearly not on that timeline now.”
Pickens said county and city attorneys jointly submitted to Baptist a list of concerns offered by local physicians, but he declined to specify the concerns.
“We’ve had two offers made to us, but it was just money and nothing more,” he said. “What we’re concerned about is long-term care for the people of the county and the city. If we sell it, that’s the only time we’re going to have any say in it.”
The next talks on the issue are scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 24.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.