GSDP hosts hospital forum

From Left: President of the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors Orlando Trainer and OCH Regional Medical Center Administrator and CEO Richard Hilton answered questions during the Greater Starkville Development Partnership’s informational forum on the upcoming referendum vote on whether to sell OCH. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Staff Writer

The Greater Starkville Development Partnership hosted an informational forum on the upcoming referendum vote during the special election on Nov. 7 at the Greensboro Center on Wednesday.

The goal of the forum was to present facts to residents to answer questions and clear any misconceptions within the voters minds.

President of the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors Orlando Trainer and OCH Administrator Richard Hilton fielded questions presented by CEO and President of the GSDP Scott Maynard.

The questions provided for both representatives were submitted by the GSDP board and questions from the general public.

During Trainer’s opening statement, he recognized the challenges and opportunities relating to OCH and healthcare.

“Therefore the board of supervisors has taken a proactive approach to try to be aggressive and offensive instead of being defensive and waiting on certain things to happen,” Trainer said.

Trainer said the board took it upon themselves to look at the “longterm interest” and “longterm opportunity” of health care in Oktibbeha County.

In Hilton’s opening statement, he stressed he is ready to bring clarity to questions in the community and the board of trustees and staff are opposed to the sale of the hospital.

Hilton said keeping the hospital local owned allows the final decisions of healthcare to be made within the county and having local ownership will assure the needs of the community.

Hilton emphasized OCH has an annual economic impact of $127 million, according to the Kaiser Foundation and spends about $7 million locally each year on goods and services.

When looking to sell the hospital, Trainer said residents need to look at the financial performance perspective.

Trainer said it’s obvious OCH needs a partner according to the assessments the board has done, which identify shortfalls.

“If we continue to hold on to OCH we are actually limiting it because the county has limited resources,” Trainer said. “We need to try and find a partner who has more resources to bring to the table.”

Hilton said selling the hospital would only make sense when an entity is in a bankruptcy position.

“OCH is nowhere near a bankruptcy position,” Hilton said.

One of the questions concerning those attending was layoffs at OCH. One question in particular asked if OCH is planning for layoffs of current physicians or staff.

Hilton said OCH has not developed an immediate plan for layoffs of current physician or staff.

“Recruited physicians seeking full-time practice opportunity after residency training routinely want to be employed,” Hilton said. “Employing physicians will have to be an option provided.”

Trainer said there is not a contract involved since the board is only at the proposal stage. Trainer said when it comes to protecting jobs, each responder has submitted “reasonable” and “appropriate” responses when it comes to employment of staff and positions.

Trainer said because the agreements can’t be final until after the vote, some of the information has not been received, but he said once the voters take to the polls, the board can “hash out” those particulars in the contracts.

“They have a plan and made a commitment that they are going to retain existing employees and they are going to promote retention and stability,” Trainer said. “We are not trying to do anything that will do the hospital a disservice.”

Resident Bob Kirkland said he attended the forum to help answer some of the questions he had on the topic. He said many of the answers the audience received from the Board of Supervisors were vague.

“I don’t feel like I have enough true facts and information to sell (the hospital),” Kirkland said.

Dr. Will Carter, director of Anesthesia at OCH Regional Medical Center, attended the forum and said the hospital came with good evidence-based answers and a plan of what is going to happen, while the board left him with more questions than answers.

“The supervisors really just had a bunch of ambigious promises,” Carter said. “A lot of vague promises and ideas and really no substantial plan for what’s going to happen with the hospital if we sell it.”

Carter said loss of jobs is a concern among those working within the hospital and hearing about the information about merging and centralizing services only further pushed his concern.

“That’s definitely an expected consequence of selling the hospital,” Carter said.