Senate panel gives ‘no confidence’ to Health Dept. leader

Published 9:17 pm Friday, November 10, 2006

Members of a legislative committee said Thursday they have lost confidence in state health officer Brian Amy’s ability to lead the Mississippi Department of Health.

The “no confidence” vote by the Senate Public Health Committee came after another in a series of hearings into operations of the Health Department.

The motion voted on by committee members referred to poor communication among staff and with the public and widespread dissatisfaction among public health and medical professionals with Amy’s leadership.

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The committee called on the state Board of Health to resolve the matter at or before its Dec. 13 meeting. Committee chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, had already called for the board to fire Amy.

Amy became state health officer in 2002.

Amy called the hearings “very one-sided.” He said the department had not been allowed to respond to many of the questions and was not given sufficient time to prepare.

“There’s been a lot of hearsay, misinformation and unsubstantiated opinions,” Amy said.

On Wednesday, Jim Horne, director of the Health Department’s Public Health Laboratory, told lawmakers that the agency made no effort to ensure it could repay $25 million in bonds provided by the Legislature for a new lab without help from taxpayers.

The Health Department planned to collect enough in fees for health screening services and reimbursement from Medicaid to pay off the debt.

Horne said “no one had looked at: can we do it — can we even perform the screening — what the costs are and whether Medicaid would reimburse us.”

He said that no one from the Health Department had even met with Medicaid on the subject and that its reimbursement for the services in question was highly unlikely.

Horne said he was told not to worry, that the Legislature would cover any shortfalls.

Nunnelee said he believed the lab numbers “were made up just to get something passed in the Legislature.”

Previous hearings have focused on allegations the Health Department neglected to inform the public about disease outbreaks, possible conflicts of interest with its leadership and poor management.

Officials said no bonds have been issued for the new lab.

Mitchell Adcock, the department’s finance director, said the lab proposal was based on typical Medicaid reimbursement rates for performing the screenings. He said the department bills Medicaid for thousands of services without consulting with Medicaid first.

Medicaid reimburses hospitals, not the Health Department, for newborn screenings, said executive director Robert L. Robinson. Hospitals then pay the Health Department a portion of that reimbursement.

If the program were changed to increase the department’s share, “all hospitals and all clinics would have to agree to that,” Robinson said.

Adcock said the department had not met with hospitals.

Adcock said the department has withdrawn its request for the bond funds and has come up with four alternative plans to replace the funds.

“We have no intentions of proceeding with this if you are uncomfortable,” Adcock told lawmakers.