Miss. board considers hospital licensing changes

Published 11:29 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Mississippi Board of Health plan to redraw state geographic health districts could boost Olive Branch’s chances of getting its own hospital, according to state and local officials.

The changes, which the board expects to vote on in April after a series of public hearings, are part of a set of proposed changes to Mississippi’s certificate of need program, which determines where hospitals can be built.

DeSoto County is part of what health officials have described as the hospital bed-rich Mississippi Delta region. They’ve refused to approve a hospital in Olive Branch — about 13 miles southeast of Memphis, Tenn. — because many of that region’s existing hospital beds aren’t used.

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Proponents of an Olive Branch hospital think DeSoto should be taken out of that district because local residents don’t typically go to the Delta for hospital care but instead go to closer hospitals in Memphis or to Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto in Southaven.

The Board of Health proposal would put DeSoto County into a health care district with Tate, Tunica, Marshall and Panola counties. Officials said that would greatly improve the chances that the Olive Branch hospital proposed by Memphis-based Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare would be approved.

“One step closer is what it is,” said Olive Branch Mayor Sam Rikard. “It’s a positive step.”

Methodist has proposed a 100-bed, four-story patient tower on a 20-acre site along U.S. Highway 78.

The Board of Health issues certificates of need to control costs, avoid duplication of services and protect existing health care providers from competition. The board also considers new medical projects based partly on how much they are needed within a region.

Alliance HealthCare System and Baptist Memorial Health Care, two area hospital groups, have opposed Methodist’s application.

The Board of Health also is considering allowing counties with more than 140,000 people and projected population growth of at least 10 percent during the next 10 years to immediately qualify for an additional hospital.

“We are the only county that would be affected by that particular change,” said state Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, who has pushed for legislative approval of the Olive Branch hospital.

Last week, a study released by the University of Memphis — and requested by Methodist — showed the Olive Branch hospital would generate $349 million for the local economy. The study estimates the total economic impact to be $1.3 billion during the hospital’s first three years of operation.

“This would be a huge boost, a shot in the arm, to DeSoto County’s economy,” Flowers said.

Other proposed changes before the Board of Health would require certificate of need applicants to:

— Provide more indigent and Medicaid care than the average of other area hospitals.

— Establish outpatient services in an adjacent county without a hospital.

— Fully participate in the state’s acute trauma care system.