By Jane Clark Summers

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

BOONEVILLE – A meeting Thursday between a group of elected officials and economic development leaders from Prentiss County and Dr. Jeff Barber, president and chief executive officer of North Mississippi Health Services, seems to have applied salve to a sore issue – NMHS’ plans to locate a medical clinic in Booneville.

Booneville Mayor Wade Lambert, Prentiss County Board of Supervisors President Jimmy Moore, state Rep. Billy McCoy, state Sen. John White, Prentiss County Development Association President Dr. David Powe, immediate past PCDA president Marshall Dickerson and three members of the Booneville Baptist Memorial Hospital medical staff met with Barber to discuss what the Prentiss County leaders fear could be NMHS’ attempt to take over medical care in their county.

“We expressed concern about the (proposed) facility and the importance of keeping our hospital healthy,” said Dickerson, spokesman for the group. The hospital is important not only for health care but for economic development and recruiting jobs to the community, he said.

Dickerson said Prentiss Countians also questioned NMHS’ timing of plans to locate a medical clinic in their county. Baptist Hospital has recently announced a $2 million expansion of its physical plant and recruitment of four new physicians.

NMHS, parent company of North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, has a reputation of moving into a community and closing hospitals, Dickerson said. “We just want to make sure our people have quality health care and the opportunity to make a choice,” he said.

Powe said the group appreciated Barber’s meeting with them for the round-table discussion. “He indicated he had met this week with officials from Baptist Memorial Health Care in Memphis (which operates the Booneville facility) and that they might become involved in joint programs,” Powe said.

Patients at NMHS clinics are frequently referred to the Baptist-operated hospital in New Albany under an agreement between Baptist and NMHS.

Keeping the cost of health care down is important, but if patients have to travel long distances to receive care, that may reduce the cost benefits, Powe said. “We want to make sure that our people have access and choice and have the best health care available to them,” he said.

Mayor Lambert said he was encouraged by the meeting. “I think for the betterment of health care, it should be left up to the two health-care facilities to negotiate for the patients and give the people a choice of where they want to go,” Lambert said.

Barber has said previously that the decision to locate a clinic in Prentiss County was based on state and federal determinations that the county is lacking in primary-care physicians. Plans call for the clinic to be operated by Dr. Melanie Winfield Wallace, a Booneville native.

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