Oxford hospital decision sees delays

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Concerns from residents have prompted local officials to demand more information prior to making any decisions on a new hospital.
Some city and county leaders who’ll vote on whether to sell the hospital owned jointly by the city of Oxford and Lafayette County to Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. say they want to know where the new one will be located before they’ll commit to the sale.
Now more face-to-face negotiations are necessary before decisions can be made.
In separate meetings Monday and Wednesday, respectively, several supervisors and aldermen discussed the primary concern they’ve heard repeatedly from constituents – location. The property BMHCC has purchased is outside Oxford’s city limits, some five miles from the present hospital, and accessible only from Mississippi Highway 6.
“I don’t want to tell them where to put it, but I won’t support the (memorandum of understanding) until I know where the hospital’s going,” District 1 Supervisor Mike Pickens said Monday.
On Wednesday, two aldermen added their voices to that demand.
“I would like to know the location prior to the approval of the MOU,” said Alderman-at-Large John Morgan. “They chose that location out there, and when they give you all the different reasons why – the westside referrals coming from the Delta – it makes perfect sense for Baptist; it just doesn’t make sense for Oxford.”
Ward 3 Alderman Janice Antonow noted Baptist’s site-selection criteria deal with topography, utilities and other mechanics but ignore the needs of physicians and community members.
“I think if we can get that worked out; we can have both,” she said. “I am so disillusioned by Baptist and their approach to this location business, I’m just not going to deal with it if we can’t do that.”
Attorneys for both public boards urged against having any direct influence on site selection. County board attorney David O’Donnell warned strongly that supervisors’ having any knowledge of the site selection process could open them to fiscal and even criminal liability.
Kenny Farrell, who represents one potential hospital site, disputed O’Donnell’s assertion.
“To suggest as Mr. O’Donnell did that establishing criteria for parameters of the location constitutes potential criminal charges I think is a gross misinterpretation and exaggeration of the principle,” Farrell said, noting the hospital’s location is a matter of public safety and convenience.
“You’re transferring ownership of a publicly owned asset – two of them, real property as well as the certificate of need. … If you were trying to direct it to a specific property owner for someone’s good, that’s a different matter, but there are government facilities developed by private entities as well as public entities that have site selection and site location parameters routinely.”
Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson has expressed frustration over the Highway 6 West location but adds, “I don’t think we ought to be in the business of telling them where to go.”
The realization that a proposed six- to eight-story hospital would require an additional 100-foot ladder truck for the Oxford Fire Department, gave pause to Patterson and Morgan alike.
“The only thing covering this is one 100-foot stick, and that’s a cold $1 million,” Patterson said. “You can’t be six feet short of reaching that last room.”
The city’s existing 100-foot ladder truck is assigned to cover the University of Mississippi, which has several dormitories and a hotel of eight stories or more.
Morgan said of Baptist’s plans for the new hospital, “If they’re going to go over 75 feet, they need to pay for a million-dollar truck.”
Aldermen will meet with Baptist officials next week at a time yet to be scheduled.

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.