HATTIESBURG – A battle is raging here, and it has nothing to do with USM football. The battle concerns, surprisingly enough, health care and centers specifically on Wesley Medical Center’s application to expand its medical services to include open-heart surgery.
On Sept. 22, 1999, president and CEO of Wesley Medical Center, Ray Humphreys, announced the hospital’s plan to include open-heart surgery and a freestanding outpatient surgery facility. Wesley filed for a certificate of need (CON), and the hearing on the open-heart facility was held by the Mississippi State Department of Health Oct. 20-21.
Humphreys said, “Open-heart surgery at Wesley would provide another high-quality heart care facility to meet the growing needs of the Pine Belt area. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the state and Wesley is responding to the need addressed by the State Health Plan last year.” The plan emphasizes improving access to cardiac care and encourages the establishment of additional cardiac catheterization and open-hear programs in Mississippi.
Representatives from Forrest General, however, do not agree.
Allen Meadows, Forrest General vice president of business development told, the Hattiesburg American last week that, “We believe the state Health Department’s State Health Plan which regulates state health services does not justify a second heart program in Hattiesburg.”
State department of health representatives stated prior to the hearing that Wesley’s plan met state criteria that include the performance of 450 heart catheterizations annually, service to a population of 100,000 and the expectation to do 150 open-heart surgeries annually within three years.
Controversy occurred when a statistical error was found concerning the numbers used to determine if Wesley met the requirements for population served. Though Wesley had correctly reported upon filing the CON application the population of their service area, the health department staff used incorrect market share percentages to calculate the number of people served by Wesley as being over 100,000. When the mistake was corrected, the calculated population served dropped below 100,000.
“We’ve been saying all along that Wesley’s request doesn’t meet the guidelines of the state’s health plan,” said Meadows.
Wesley returned to the hearing on Oct. 21, however, and showed the area served by Wesley to be even broader than that represented in the primary service area of Forrest, Lamar, Covington, Greene, Jones, Marion, Perry and Jeff Davis counties, thus accounting for service to a population of over 100,000.
Wesley attorney Chris Shapley, of the Brunini Group in Jackson, said, “Whether you take the staff’s recommendations or whether you take into account the broader service area, there is a significant market share to justify the procedure. A cardiologist in McComb and two internal medicine doctors from McComb and Wiggins, which are outside the service area, testified that they would refer their patients to Wesley for heart procedures. When all the witnesses testified, it further expanded the service area and provided more of a market share than necessary. Even though the state department of health staff acknowledges their mathematical error, they still recommend approval of the program.”
Also during the hearing, an expert witness for Wesley, Sarah Laughran, vice president of Healthgrades.com, a hospital rating company, stated that Forrest General’s coronary bypass program ranked lowest in the state for treatment of Medicare patients.
Meadows responded by pointing to the choice of Forrest General as one of 25 national clinical sites for TMR laser heart surgery and the fact that the hospital’s current mortality rate for bypass surgery being below the national average as proof of the quality of the hospital’s heart program.
The hearing will reconvene on Nov. 5, at which time Forrest General will present their expert witnesses. State health officer Dr. Ed Thompson is expected to make the final decision concerning the need for a second heart program by the end of the year.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Mary Ellen Powell at firstname.lastname@example.org.