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VOL. 123 | NO. 223 | Thursday, November 13, 2008

Methodist Takes Olive Branch Request to Legislature

By Tom Wilemon

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Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare will seek direct approval from the Mississippi Legislature for a new $151 million hospital in Olive Branch instead of going through the normal process of obtaining a certificate of need from the state’s Department of Health.

The hospital withdrew its application after a staff analysis by the state agency determined that DeSoto County has 102 more hospital beds than needed and that the Delta region has 553 too many beds.

“The staff reception on our last filing for CON approval was extremely negative,” Gary Shorb, chief executive officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, said Wednesday.

“It was our feeling after assessing it that we would not be successful, so it didn’t make a lot of sense to go through all that effort and the resource commitment to go forward with that procedure.”

Long struggle

Methodist has been trying to build a hospital in DeSoto County since around 2000. Baptist Memorial Health Care, which has a hospital in Southaven, and Alliance Healthcare System, which has a hospital in Holly Springs, have opposed Methodist’s plans.

Shorb said he was confident the hospital would receive legislative approval.

The two key legislators who could decide the fate of the proposal, the chairmen of the House and Senate committees that deal with hospital issues, said Methodist Le Bonheur had not informed them before releasing a statement about the decision Tuesday.

However, Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, and Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said they would allow their committees to consider any legislation related to the Olive Branch hospital.

Although the Department of Health staff had recommended denying the hospital request under its current Certificate of Need rules, the state agency has a task force that is revamping those regulations.

“Methodist didn’t call me and ask me what to do about that,” said Holland, the chairman of the House Public Health and Human Services Committee. “I would have told them to pursue both routes.”

The agency could vote to change its hospital certification areas as early as January, he said. The Mississippi Legislature also convenes in April, but the session does not typically wrap up until January.

“Should the criteria change and it look like we have an opportunity to be successful, then we’d be happy to refile,” Shorb said.

Holland said the maps and rules for hospital CONs are outdated.

“Olive Branch has been lumped in by 25 years of legislative service with the entire Mississippi Delta,” Holland said. “It’s been an unfair situation to DeSoto County.”

Complicated process

Bryan, the chairman of the Senate Public and Welfare Committee, stopped any consideration of bills dealing with CONs during the 2008 Legislative session because he was new at the helm of the committee and there were new members.

The purpose of the CON process is to stop hospitals from “cherry picking” affluent areas and positioning them in a manner that serves the uninsured and under-insured, Bryan said. A longtime legislator, Bryan said he could not recall the Legislature ever having bypassed the State Board of Health and directly approved a CON for a hospital. However, he said the Legislature had issued CONs for nursing homes.

DeSoto County is a unique situation because of its population growth and proximity to a metropolitan area in another state, Bryan said.

Shorb said he believes Mississippi’s time frame for considering CONs is too short.

“The promise of Olive Branch, the traffic congestion, the growth in that particular segment of DeSoto County has been so significant that it warrants a hospital to be placed there,” Shorb said. “The analysis that we’ve done is built on demographic projections beyond what two or three years would justify.”

Although DeSoto County is unique to Mississippi in many ways, competition between hospitals and community interest in health care institutions occur in several areas of the state, Holland said.

“I have a lot of interest in my committee on this subject, not just from Olive Branch, but from all over the state,” he said. “We’re looking at it, and you’re going to have to have a vehicle. We’ll probably use Olive Branch to do that. We’ll see how that process works. It is much more complex than just the Legislature granting the authority to build a hospital.”

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