ERROL CASTENS: The right project in the wrong place

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

A decade or so ago, when Oxford aldermen approved the relocation of the Post Office more than a mile from downtown and away from major traffic routes, it was a decision that at least one alderman has called “the biggest mistake of my tenure on the board.” It has cost immeasurable inconvenience for postal customers and will continue to do so for decades.
If Baptist Memorial Health Care builds its new hospital on a site that its agents have bought west of Oxford, it will almost certainly cost lives.
Distance is an issue, but only secondarily. The problem, you see, is not so much that the property is on the opposite end of town from city and county schools and both industrial parks.
Or that it’s six miles from scores of existing clinics or outside Oxford’s city limits, or even that it’s farther than the present hospital from most of the city’s population, including hundreds of people at its five long-term-care facilities.
The crux of the problem – the endangerment to this entire community – is that the site that executives in Memphis have apparently chosen for us is accessible from Oxford only via Highway 6.
Highway 6 West is for the most part a fine, free-flowing artery, but its traffic gets desperately congested when 50,000 of our closest friends come to Oxford for home-game weekends at Ole Miss seven times every fall. As Alderman Janice Antonow said, “I hope I don’t have a heart attack when there’s a football game.”
Any day of the year that a multi-car wreck were to happen, traffic would likely be stopped in both directions.
But imagine a gas or chemical truck overturning in the wrong place, and it’s obvious nobody’s getting to the new hospital location for hours.
Add the fact that this new site is west of the notorious Highway 6/Jackson Avenue intersection, where crashes are numerous, often bloody and sometimes fatal. Many of us who’ve been spared such tragedies still have our own cherished memories of close calls there.
Nobody is disputing that a new regional referral hospital will provide Oxford and Lafayette County residents both expanded healthcare options and an economic boost. Nobody’s really wishing for some other group to replace Baptist Memorial Health Care. But if Baptist executives are sincere about serving this community, they need to rethink the location they’ve secured for the new Oxford hospital.
And Oxford-area residents, healthcare professionals and officials need to aim all available influence at this decision.

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