By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Oxford and Lafayette County officials signed purchase contracts Monday that will lead to an Aug. 18 closing on the sale of their jointly owned hospital to Baptist Memorial Health Care Systems.
The sale will free the Memphis-based nonprofit hospital chain to move forward with plans to build a new hospital in Oxford to replace the existing one, parts of which date back to the early 1960s.
“This was an important step in our plans to build a larger, more advanced facility for Oxford, Lafayette County and the rest of North Mississippi,” said Don Hutson, the hospital’s administrator.
Baptist has leased the hospital from the city and county since 1989, during which time it has expanded the present facility several times and built it into a regional referral center that draws patients from several counties around. More than two years ago Baptist officials proposed the purchase and replacement, saying the 13-acre property would not accommodate further expansion.
The purchase agreement has been negotiated line by line for several months by lawyers representing all three entities.
“It basically tracks the memorandum of understanding,” said Lafayette County board attorney David O’Donnell. Among other provisions, the city and county will split the $60 million purchase price and several million in health trust funds. Baptist will build a new hospital at a yet-to-be-decided location, with an investment of at least $250 million.
“The next step involves selecting a location for the hospital that is within Oxford city limits,” Hutson said. “We have multiple sites to choose from, and we will keep the public apprised of our efforts. We must choose a location before we apply for a certificate of need from the state of Mississippi. We expect the (certificate of need) approval process to go smoothly.”
Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson has called for the bulk of the city’s proceeds from the hospital sale to be preserved for future needs. With that aim he has appointed a committee of aldermen and residents to oversee the fund’s investment.
Lafayette County Board of Supervisors President Lloyd Oliphant said the county is looking for a safe place to park its money while deciding priorities.
“We can’t just take $30 million and deposit it in one of the local banks,” he said.
Oliphant said the funds could be used for almost any county purpose other than roads and bridges.
District 5 Supervisor Ray Sockwell Jr. said he’d like to see the county pay off its $13 million bond debt and build a multipurpose building.