NMHS head offers to address concerns about Booneville clinic
By Marty Russell
Dr. Jeff Barber, administrator and chief executive officer of North Mississippi Health Services, said he has met with a representative of Prentiss County groups opposed to the location of a NMHS-affiliated medical clinic in Booneville and offered to speak to those groups but as of Friday had not received any invitation.
“I would be happy to meet with them,” Barber said Friday at a luncheon for media representatives who deal with the Tupelo-based health-care system that includes North Mississippi Medical Center.
“Marshall Dickerson was here two days ago to pick up his aunt, and I invited him to come by and meet with me,” Barber said. “I told him I would be happy to come down and speak to those groups, but he hasn’t taken me up on that.”
Dickerson is president of the Prentiss County Development Association, one of several groups in the county opposing NMHS’ plan to locate a primary-care physician in a clinic there. Prentiss County officials, including the mayor of Booneville, the county board of supervisors, the president of the Booneville Chamber of Commerce and two state legislators signed a letter dated April 25 opposing the plan.
“We can only assume that the purpose of this clinic is to harm our local primary care facility,” the letter read.
Doug Mansell, executive director of the Prentiss County Development Association, said Friday those opposed to the clinic still want to meet with Barber and discuss NMHS’ perceived lack of primary care in the county.
“The last I heard we were trying to arrange a meeting but we’ve been real busy,” Mansell said. “If there is such a great need (for a new clinic), we want to know why we didn’t know about it.”
In a meeting earlier this week, Prentiss County officials said they were concerned that NMHS’ real intent was to eventually shut down the hospital in Booneville, which is operated by Baptist Memorial Health Care Systems out of Memphis.
Prentiss County officials cite NMHS’ timing as one indication that it wants to stem the growth of other medical providers in the county. Baptist Memorial just announced a $2 million expansion at the Booneville hospital and four new primary-care physicians have been recruited to work there.
But Barber said NMHS has no control over Baptist Memorial and therefore no way to shut down the Booneville hospital. He said the decision to locate a clinic in the county was based on state and federal determinations that the county is lacking in primary-care physicians.
While admitting that other areas, such as Fulton, also lack enough primary care, Barber said the decision to locate a clinic in Booneville was based on the desire of the physician. Dr. Melanie Winfield Wallace, the physician who would staff the clinic, is a Booneville native.
In response to charges that a NMHS clinic would take business away from the Booneville hospital’s physicians, Barber points to New Albany where Baptist Memorial also runs the local hospital and NMHS has a clinic located next door.
“Thirty percent of their admissions come from our clinic,” he said of the New Albany hospital.
In New Albany, NMHS has an agreement with Baptist Memorial that allows the local clinic to refer patients to the hospital there. There is no such agreement with Baptist Memorial’s Booneville facility, according to Gerald Wages, NMHS’ executive vice president and chief financial officer.
“We’ve offered Baptist an opportunity to participate and they have chosen not to,” Wages said.
He said no reason was given for that stance.