‘Catching the vision’: OCH begins working out affiliation agreement with UMMC

OCH Regional Medical Center CEO Jim Jackson (right) looks off into the crowd at an affiliation ceremony with University of Mississippi Medical Center on Monday. Also pictured is UMMC CEO Kevin Cook (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

SDN Editor

A couple hundred people crowded in the OCH Regional Medical Center Educational Facility on Monday to celebrate the hospital taking the first steps in a health care affiliation with Jackson-based University of Mississippi Medical Center.

UMMC, the state’s only academic medical center, was chosen as the county-owned hospital’s next health care partner, after being selected over North Mississippi Health Services and Baptist Health Systems by the OCH Board of Trustees in June.

The two entities will now enter a 120-day period of talks, which will consist of meetings between UMMC administrators and OCH staff, along with OCH CEO Jim Jackson, who was named to the position by the hospital’s board of trustees the same week as the affiliation was announced.

Watch: OCH introduces Jim Jackson as new CEO and administrator

These meetings will see discussions relating to a wide variety of potential benefits, including: access to a replacement of an electronic health record system for OCH, volume-based purchasing to reduce supply and equipment costs and assistance in providing access to specialists in Starkville to allow patients better access to health care locally, including telemedicine.

“What a way to kick off the start of my third week,” an excited Jackson said following the press conference. “I’m coming in sort of after all of this work has been done, the foundation has been laid to move forward in this partnership so I’m looking forward embracing that selection and working with (UMMC CEO Kevin Cook) and his team to find mutually beneficial ways to improve health care for Starkville.”

OCH says it is in the process of developing a five-year contract with options for renewals, which will also include options for either party to terminate the agreement before the end of the contract.
The county-owned hospital also reiterated that OCH’s policy, procedures and benefits package would not change as a result of the partnership.

The issue of negotiations between UMMC and Blue Cross & Blue Shield was mentioned, with the hospital saying once again that the talks between the two entities will have no impact on OCH patients.
While it is still fairly uncertain what the affiliation will look like once finalized, Cook told the Starkville Daily News that UMMC has the capability to do certain things in health care that no one else does in the state of Mississippi.

The hospital is in a unique position, with more than 10,000 full- and part-time employees. UMMC has an annual budget of $1.6 billion, with roughly one-tenth coming from state appropriations, which represents 10 percent of the Jackson metro area economy and two percent of the state economy.

The capabilities offered by UMMC includes, among other things, specialized pediatric care, with UMMC operating the only children’s hospital in Mississippi.

“Other elements like bone marrow transplants,” Cook said. “We have the only bone marrow transplant unit in the state of Mississippi. The only Level IV NICU, neonatal intensive care unit, so we have certain aspects of our capabilities that no one in the state does. It’s in those categories we hope folks consider us.”

Level IV NICU’s provide the most acute level of care for newborns. UMMC’s capabilities include pediatric surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), whole body cooling for hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and high-risk maternal fetal medicine delivery services.  UMMC reports more than 1,000 NICU admissions each year with one-third of these patients referred by outside hospitals and transported UMMC in Jackson.

Apart from the obvious academic offerings an affiliation with UMMC will bring, there will also be increased capabilities for telemedicine.

"We do have one of two national centers of excellence in telemedicine,” Cook said. “We hope to bring a lot of those capacities to the local medical staff so they can expand their practice improve access for local community and really give a different look to medicine in the Golden Triangle.

While UMMC hopes to offer an on-site presence at OCH, some specialities may be offered through telemedicine. This option is currently being explored for specialities that do not have the local demand for a full-time specialist on site.

After the major announcement was made following months of uncertainty, Jackson said he believed there was a since of relief and optimism among hospital staff.

“There’s some excitement to get started,” Jackson said. “Of course, we’ve got a lot to work through, for the next 120 days we are going to be working on what the details of the affiliation will mean. The outline has already been created. For OCH, our urgency about this is to hurry up and start receiving the benefits, although it’s taken a while to get to this point, hopefully we are going to see the momentum pick up and a lot more effort made.”


OCH Board of Trustees Chairman Linda Breazeale said the enthusiasm in the hospital is growing as the affiliation moves forward. And with Mississippi State University positioned in the same county as OCH, the possibilities are many.

“I think that everyone when we first made the announcement, they just wanted to wait and see and I think they started to get the vision for what can happen here and the services that UMMC can bring to this community,” she said. “I think people are catching the vision for the academic aspects, the idea of sending MSU students to the med school and bringing them back here.”

OCH also said the partnership gives UMMC the opportunity to expand educational training programs for Mississippi practitioners by placing medical residents and fellows at OCH, where they would deliver patient care also with OCH staff.

Currently, UMMC has an enrollment of more than 3,000 students in all of its programs.

The concept of an affiliation also fits into the vision for growth and success at UMMC, which is the state’s only academic medical center.

“We can’t accomplish our overall mission of a healthier Mississippi if there is no system of care in smaller communities,” Cook said. “Our chance for success is only through the help of strong communities. We need thriving community hospitals to provide places to train physicians and provide places for our graduates to practice.”

Breazeale then cited a recent accolade awarded to the city of Starkville by Mississippi Magazine as “The Best Place to Live.”

“Because of the recent announcement that Starkville is the best place to live, it’s obvious our students are going to want to come back here,” Breazeale said. “Falling in love with this community, they are going to want to go to med school and want to come back here. And the potential that this will bring more medical staff to this area.”

Dr. Emily Landrum is in private practice, as is her father, Dr. Steve Brandon, a family physician.

While neither are employed by the county-owned hospital, they were both on hand Monday and optimistic about what the partnership could mean for their practices when asked if the academic possibilities would provide a positive impact.

“That’s one of the things (Brandon) and I both have interest in is growing our practice but also working with people that are pre-med students, medical school students and residents who are in there training, working with them to give them a different perspective of what medicine looks like in smaller communities like ours,” Landrum said. “And hopefully, doing those kind of things we can recruit some to come here and join the medical community.”