By The Associated Press
OXFORD — Officials with Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi are eager to move forward on their new $300 million hospital.
The project was first announced in 2009, but negotiations with the city of Oxford and Lafayette County have not moved as quickly as hospital officials had hoped.
Baptist officials want to buy out the 24 years remaining on its current lease with the city and county. Then, they could move to a new location that will provide them with a 50- to 65-acre medical center campus.
City and county approval is needed on the buy-out.
City leaders tell the Oxford Eagle that they have just a few final concerns that need to be addressed before they are ready to sign off on the project. County officials said they are wary of making a hasty decision on the project that has been under review for more than a year.
Baptist officials had hoped to begin construction in July 2011 and move into the new facility before the end of 2012.
“We are a little bit behind, but it is not due to anything except getting all of our schedules in order. The last thing I want to see is have Baptist move to another place, due to a hospital deal somewhere else,” said Oxford alderman John Morgan.
Lloyd Oliphant, president of the county Board of Supervisors, said he isn’t concerned about reaching any sort of agreement on the lease buy-out any time soon.
“When we vote either to sell or to retain our interest, it will be at the appropriate time and not due to an arbitrary date on the calendar,” he said. “Our intention is to acquire as much information as possible prior to our board taking a vote on whether or not to sell to Baptist,”
Morgan said the city and county has given the hospital a list of areas they would like to see addressed in the new hospital. He said they expect to meet with the hospital administration again in late January.
What the specific local concerns are, no one is saying, but some of the questions previously mentioned include what to do with the current hospital location once Baptist relocates.
The initial timeline for the project has already been postponed by six months.
If the city and county vote in January, the project would be postponed by eight months, meaning the new hospital would not be ready to be open until September or October 2014, officials said.
“We met what we thought was the final expectations in October,” said Jim Ainsworth, vice president and head of regional operations for Baptist Memorial Health Care. “We hope to turn around these new concerns quickly.”
Hospital CEO Don Hutson said the hospital is landlocked is landlocked in its current location and can’t buy any land around it. Building up is not allowable under new seismic codes
Another issue is the interior of the building which has ceilings that are too low for the now needed information technology systems. Other challenges include the fact that critical care units do not meet current codes and the major departments that will need room to grow have no space to expand, including the emergency room, imaging and surgery.
The hospital employs 1,100 employees with an annual payroll of $40 million. It also has 32 specialties in its current 217-bed hospital.