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Certificate of need issue clouds situation

Delta Regional Medical Center moving forward with plans

GREENVILLE — Delta Regional Medical Center (DRMC) has been making room for its new $2.5-million state-of-the-art magnetic resonance image (MRI) machine, to be operational by Nov. 18, and CT scanner, which became operational July 18, while its $8.1-million expansion project has been postponed until at least next spring.

King’s Daughters Hospital (KDH), a private, for-profit hospital serving Greenville, owned and managed by Brentwood, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems, has charged Delta Regional with dragging its feet on the expansion project, and has filed a legal challenge to block progress, a move that Ray Humphreys, CEO of Delta Regional Medical Center, said is nothing more than a delay tactic.

“King’s Daughters opposed this project on five different occasions, all the way to the Supreme Court, and they’re continuing to oppose the expansion even though they’ve been overruled each time,” said Humphreys. “It seems their strategy is to delay or prevent this multi-million dollar investment in the Mississippi Delta, which will improve health care, create jobs and stimulate the economy.”

KDH officials argue that Delta Regional misused its certificate of need (CON) by waiting more than 18 months before moving forward with construction on the proposed 182-acre south medical campus, which would ultimately provide the Delta with a third full-service hospital.

The State Department of Health initially granted Delta Regional the CON on Aug. 30, 2000. After reviewing lawsuits and appeals by KDH, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in favor of Delta Regional Jan. 15, 2002. One year later, state health officials approved an extension request. Delta Regional submitted a formal relocation request to the health department on May 30.

KDH attorney Heber S. Simmons III wrote in a July letter to state health officials that the project was “arguably known to be abandoned by DRMC in January 2003.”

KDH officials, who contend that as long as Delta Regional holds a valid CON other health care providers are prevented from offering the medical services in the area, are contesting the approval of Delta Regional’s relocation request granted by state health officials on Aug. 15. The health department’s scheduled Nov. 12 hearing to consider KDH allegations has been postponed until next May.

“If you are serious about your commitment, you’d want to start in haste,” KDH CEO David Fuller told the Delta Democrat Times last month. “If we had been granted the certificate, we would have been up and running in two to three months.”

Delta Regional, which opened on March 3, 1953, as Washington County General Hospital, has evolved into a major referral hospital serving Delta communities within a 60-mile radius in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. The 268-bed, full-service hospital employs more than 800 people, making it one of the largest employers in Washington County. A Level III trauma center, one of only five trauma centers in the state, Delta Regional houses the state’s only burn center and was included in a partnership with the National Bioterrorism Center in post-9/11 terrorism preparedness.

Even though population in the Delta decreased 5% from 1990 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Delta Regional, which spent more than $32 million in capital improvements in the 1990s, has continued to grow.

“That’s largely due to the new services we offer and the recruitment of new physicians, and improvements in quality that led to the need for a new facility because we’ve simply outgrown the existing facilities,” said Humphreys.

Expansion plans began to surface after Delta Regional officials determined that the landlocked hospital’s cramped quarters and 50-year-old facility was insufficient for today’s medical needs.

The total south medical campus project represents a 25-year, $100-million investment, bringing a projected 600 additional jobs and an extra $250 million in revenue to the region. The initial phase would include an outpatient ambulatory surgery center and medical office building. Delta Regional officials have said that it would continue to use its original Union Street facility when the expansion project is completed.

For now, Delta Regional physicians are housing the new MRI machine in a temporary annex, and the existing radiology wing has been upgraded to accommodate the new CT scanner.

“The establishment of a south campus will allow the medical center to expand its programs significantly, particularly outpatient services, while maintaining and continuing to improve the existing facilities at the north campus,” said Humphreys.

Groundbreaking for the new facility was scheduled to take place in December. Humphreys said “the obstacle” could delay the project for yet another 18 months.

“The benefits that are so needed in the Delta would begin immediately if (KDH) dropped their opposition to this project,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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