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Hospital initiates media blitz to tell its side of CON story

Clock ticking on CMMC’s Ridgewood Road facility

Hearings are underway at the state department of health for CMMC’s new certificate of need (CON) for the north campus, and a decision is anticipated by mid-November. Without a new CON, the 64-bed hospitalin Jackson must close by year-end under a chancery court order.

On July 1, HMA filed a new CON application for Central Mississippi Medical Center, the former Methodist North campus. In late July, the state health department deemed the application complete. After a staff report, which recommended approval of the project, was presented Oct. 4, Mississippi Baptist Medical Center and St. Dominic Hospital requested a hearing prior to publication. In November, hearing officer Art Sharpe will present a recommendation to Dr. Ed Thompson, state health officer who granted the initial CON in 1993. Thompson is expected to make a decision by Nov. 18. Final action, as a result of the hearing, is subject to an appeal to the Hinds County Chancery Court.

“We are pleased that a staff report recommended approval of the project,” said Jay R. Finnegan, CMMC’s CEO. “We’re confident that we have and will present a CON application that will demonstrate the need for relocation of beds and services from the main campus, and that a need exists for the north campus as evidenced by our historical utilization, in particular, by at-risk groups. We’re providing a significant number of obstetrical services to Medicaid recipients that have not historically been able to access such services at either Baptist or St. Dominic.”

Early in the hearings, even after Baptist Hospital and St. Dominic argued that a typographical error should be reason to toss out the application, Sharpe disagreed and the hearings resumed. The error revolved around a proposed Level 4 emergency room that doesn’t require a physician and can be staffed by nurse practitioners. Baptist Medical Center and St. Dominic Hospital have Level 2 emergency rooms.

“A new emergency room would expedite emergency care for residents in northeast Jackson and south Madison County areas by easing overcrowding and reducing long waits at other hospitals,” Finnegan said.

Last month, more than 150 hospital employees and community leaders rallied to keep the facility open. An advertising blitz in the metro Jackson market that focuses on CMMC’s contributions to the community and the negative economic impact that would result if the hospital closed has been prominent in print publications and radio spots.

“We generated the advertising campaign as a result of meetings with the community,” said Finnegan. “We found that most people in the community didn’t understand the current state of affairs, and didn’t realize that we actually had closure date. When that information came to light, they encouraged us to get the word out, because they felt others would be equally concerned and would want to do something to support the project. That was the genesis for that campaign.”

Last year, CMMC treated more than 20,000 patients and generated more than $800,000 in taxes. Almost 200 employees on a $6 million-plus payroll, 20 physician practices and annual taxes totaling about $800,000 would be adversely affected if the hospital closes Dec. 31.

Baptist Hospital and St. Dominic have recently received three location CONs based on the same review process the two hospitals opposed for the north campus, Finnegan said.

“The existence of the north campus has not had a negative impact on the number of patients seen at these two facilities,” he said. “They have experienced increased occupancy rates since the north campus has opened, and have continued to expand their services at location sites throughout the metro area. Combined, both facilities had a net income of $40 million the year after the north campus opened.”

The economic impact does not reflect community involvement CMMC has contributed to the March of Dimes, American Heart Association, Olde Towne Elementary School, the Madison-Ridgeland Junior Auxiliary, area chambers of commerce and others, Finnegan said.

Built in 1965, the main campus on Chadwick Drive in south Jackson has 409 beds and 1,300 employees. The north campus, which opened three years ago, has 200 employees and 64 beds.

Last fall, a Mississippi Supreme Court ruling ended a four-year battle inthe courts by saying Methodist North wasn’t authorized to build a $30-million campus even though the state department of health granted the hospital a CON in 1993.

Stating that Methodist North was not needed, Baptist Hospital and St. Dominic initiated appeals to stop construction on the north campus, and courts reviewed the CON that was granted in 1993. In 1994, a chancery judge returned the CON for Methodist North to the state health department.

Thompson reviewed the case and again granted the CON. Even though Baptist Medical Center and St. Dominic Hospital appealed to the Supreme Court in 1995 after the chancery court backed the state department of health, the Supreme Court did not stop construction of the north campus.

HMA acquired Methodist’s Jackson hospitals and associated operations last year. Founded in 1977, the purchase added to the Florida-based, investor-owned HMA’s stable of seven hospitals in Mississippi and 25 hospitals in 10 other states. HMA’s presence in Mississippi began in Biloxi in 1983.

Several months ago, an amendment to the state health care plan approved by Governor Kirk Fordice that would have allowed HMA to receive a CON to operate the north campus was deemed unconstitutional.

Sam Cameron, president and executive director of the Mississippi Hospital Association, said the statewide organization “has long had a policy that we do not take a position on an individual certificate of need filed by our member hospitals.”

Whether or not to restructure the certificate of need system in Mississippi has been a hotly debated topic among politicians and health care executives.

“We need to restructure an outdated certificate of need system and allow hospitals to operate in a free-market environment that promotes health care progress and enhances quality,” Governor Kirk Fordice has said. “The federal law requiring certificates of need was passed in 1974 and repealed by the Congress in 1986. It is time for Mississippi to do the same.”

The Mississippi Hospital Association takes a completely opposite stand, said Cameron.

“Generally, deregulation and competition in business and industry would be considered good, with the potential to lower costs,” Cameron said. “However, in the health care industry, that has not proven to be the case. Duplication of services and facilities increases the cost of health care.”

Claude Harbarger, president of St. Dominic Hospital, said he’s leaving the CON issue “up to the wisdom of the decision-makers.”

Andy Taggert, Baptist Hospital spokesperson, was in hearings at press time and was unavailable for comment on this story.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.


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