North Mississippi, Baptist named as respondents in OCH deal

OCH Regional Medical Center (submitted)
Staff Writer

The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors on Thursday named Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation and North Mississippi Health Services as the two respondents to the request for proposals (RFP) issued for the sale or lease of OCH.

Both respondents would be interested in the sale of OCH as opposed to a long-term lease agreement with the option to purchase.

Despite the highly-contentious revelation of the two bidders, voters will still have the final say in deciding whether OCH stays in county hands or not in a referendum scheduled for Nov. 7.

District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller said the decision to release the names of the respondents was made after receiving an outpouring of questions from community. She said the names were allowed to be released after an exemption was granted by hospital consultant Ted Woodrell.

“So far the bids have been very good,” Miller said. “The RFP set the minimum requirements. What we’ve released is the minimum of what the systems are willing to do."

Miller, a longtime supporter of the sale or lease of OCH, claimed both Baptist and North Mississippi would lower taxes, retain and promote employment, invest between $20 and $30 million in health care in Oktibbeha County and expand services.

Miller also said should the county choose to sell or lease OCH, the negotiations would have to continue after the vote, with 70 of 200 questions asked by the county in the data room either left blank or with unsatisfactory responses.

Miller also said she hoped county citizens would use the newly released information to learn more about the two respondents.

“I feel certain these two systems will begin to tell their success stories of how they improved healthcare in their communities,” Miller said.

District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, an opponent of the sale or lease, said he was a little surprised by there being only two proposals.

“I assumed it would be more than that, but I really wasn’t sure what we might get,” Howard said.

Howard emphasized he couldn’t share any information beyond the release due to the confidentiality agreement signed by all five supervisors. However, he said the information released would allow constituents to do their own research.

“I think the more information we can get to the public, the more informed they can be, the more educated they can be when they go to the polls on November 7,” Howard said.

Miller also said she was glad the information was released.

OCH said in a statement the bids from Baptist Healthcare Corporation and North Mississippi Health Services came as no surprise to hospital staff.

"These two health systems are major competitors with each other and would have a very strong interest in protecting their market share by purchasing OCH," the statement said. "We have a long standing relationship and strong referral pattern with both of these systems. So it stands, our patients have access to whichever facility our physicians feel best serves the patient's needs based upon the availability of services and expertise of the staff. Therefore, it stands to reason that neither system wants the other to own OCH. It's evident that OCH remaining county-owned and operated provides the best possible care for this community."

Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation operates 21 facilities in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas, including Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in Columbus. The company is headquartered in Memphis.

North Mississippi Health Services operates six hospitals, a nursing home and several clinics in Mississippi, including North Mississippi Medical Center- West Point. The company is headquartered in Tupelo.

Howard also hosted an information forum Thursday night at the Oktibbeha County Courthouse, allowing citizens to learn where the process stands and ask questions.

"I would like to ask that if our hospital does sell, that if the vote is in favor of the sale, that the supervisors be held accountable for every promise that has been made to this public, and that they hold every promise they have made to its highest," said Gail Kelly, who was in attendance at the forum.

Kelly also spoke critically of Woodrell's pay and his relationship with the supervisors.

"I find this a direct conflict of interest, not only because Mr. Ted Woodrell is being paid over $100,000, but he is also getting a success fee if the hospital is sold," Kelly said. "The success fee was not publicly known. I have been out in the community. Nobody was aware of this. The fact that this man not only accepts the bids, selects the bids, views the bids, chooses the bids that he thinks (are the best). This is a direct conflict of interest."

Howard said he was pleased with the way the forum turned out.

"There were intelligent questions asked," Howard said. "People were seeking information, and we shared as much information as we were allowed to share. I'm glad that we were able to share the names. That was very important. This will give the citizens an opportunity do do a some investigating on their own, and educate themselves further about the two responders."