August 21, 2008

State Deals Blow to Hospital Plans — Recommends Methodist’s Olive Branch Application Be Denied; Officials Vow to Fight Back

By Toni Lepeska

The longstanding effort to get a hospital in Olive Branch seemed to suffer another defeat Wednesday.

Methodist Healthcare was informed that staff at the state Department of Health had recommended denial of the hospital's application for a certificate of need, a requirement to operate.

The Board of Health must make the final decision, but state Sen. Merle Flowers, an advocate for a hospital, did not wait to strongly criticize the development.

"We anticipate they'll deny the application based on what we learned today," Flowers said Wednesday. "They're just disconnected with DeSoto County. They're out of touch. As a lawmaker I'm just saying, 'shame, shame, shame' at the Department of Health."

Flowers said hospital proponents would turn yet again to legislators to bypass the board and get the certificate of need process changed.

Mayor Sam Rikard and aldermen recently hosted at City Hall two key players in the state process for getting new hospitals. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant gave his blessing to an Olive Branch hospital and state Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, promised to fight alongside hospital proponents to de-politicize the approval process.

The state gives approval for hospitals partly on how needed they are within a region based on an evaluation of several figures and factors. DeSoto County is part of a region that includes Delta hospitals.

In its 29-page report, the state Division of Health Planning and Resource Development says the region has too many empty beds, an average of 553 extra, for Methodist to build a hospital.

But proponents point out that DeSoto's sick do not commonly go to the Delta for hospitalization but go to Memphis, thus DeSoto should be put in another region.

In its application, Methodist defined a four-county service area of DeSoto, Marshall, Tate and Tunica counties, but even using this model, the staff report says there are an average of 147 extra beds, including 102 at Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto.

Baptist did not officially oppose the certificate of need for Methodist, a hospital spokesman said, but it did write a comment letter that expressed concern about Methodist's plans not meeting certain criteria.

The health staff's denial is based partly on figures it says shows a sufficient provision of services already for cardiac care and other medical care. It also questions Methodist's ability to finance a 100-bed, $151 million hospital.

Proponents, including Flowers, have criticized some of the criteria used and have affirmed a need for additional medical services to the DeSoto County area.

The last time a certificate of need was approved here was in 1986 for Baptist Hospital.

"We've almost tripled in population but we still have only one hospital," said Flowers, who added he was "frustrated and disappointed" but not disheartened.

"I believe there's enough support now where we can bypass the state Board of Health," Flowers said. "I continue to remain optimistic."

- Toni Lepeska: (662) 996-1409

Originally published by Toni Lepeska [email protected] .

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