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Mississippi Hospital Association celebrating 75 years

With the theme “On the Horizon,” the Mississippi Hospital Association is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The association believes that managers look at the bottom line but leaders keep their eyes on the horizon, and the MHA keeps its eye on the needs of members’ institutions.

President Sam Cameron said, “For us, ‘On the Horizon’ means how those needs will be met and how our association will grow and service members for the next 75 years.”

To commemorate the anniversary, Madison artist Gail Pittman created one-of-a-kind ceramic pieces based on her new Horizon pattern. All proceeds from the sale of these items benefits the MHA’s political action committee.

Through the years the MHA has been politically active in the passage of milestone state legislation such as Medicare and Medicaid and the certificate of need legislation.

“Mississippi was the last or next to the last state to enact the Medicaid program. That program and Medicare have been the lifeblood of some rural hospitals,” Cameron said. “If you look at the demographics around the state, for some hospitals Medicaid, Medicare and uninsured make up 75% to 80% of the patients. The cost structure sometimes leaves a gap that is passed on to a shrinking pool of paying patients.”

He said members have a love/hate relationship with the certificate of need legislation. An outside entity did a study of states with and without the legislation in an effort to quantify the costs.

“It’s hard to quantify whether or not it’s saved money,” he said. “It probably has held costs down overall. We will continue to monitor it and it should be tweaked but overall it’s a good thing.”

Tough issues currently face the association, including adequate funding of services, an adequate workforce in allied health professions and access to healthcare. In today’s climate, Cameron says some type of specialty hospital may open but it’s unlikely any new acute care facility will open in the state.

“We have challenges and some member institutions are not doing well,” he said. “Some have closed due to the outward migration of the population, consolidation and the ability to attract and retain professionals. There is no one reason.”

Cameron says the health of the 110-member institutions must be looked at like the general population and environment — some are good and some are not. “Almost half have a negative margin or a margin of less than 1%,” he said. “It’s a continuous struggle and there are no easy solutions.”

The membership is divided into subgroups such as human resources, hospital officers, nursing supervisors and risk managers for specific programs put on by the MHA staff. The association conducted 96 educational programs last year at its facility in Madison. The primary reason for building the new headquarters was to have space for educational programs.

With just two presidents in its history — Charlie Flynn and Sam Cameron, the association had its first full-time staff members in 1951 and now has approximately 50 employees.

The MHA has always had a family atmosphere and theme for its annual leadership conferences. “The purpose of the annual meetings is education and networking where all types of spouses and children can attend,” Cameron said. “We go to great lengths to provide activities for all ages. We’re trying to keep that tradition going and put great emphasis on that. The mobile families of today make it more difficult.”
Several members of MHA recall years of memories and what the association has meant to their careers.

“For 75 years, MHA has been the voice of the hospital community in our state,” said Gerald Wages, immediate past MHA chairman and executive director of North Mississippi Health Services in Tupelo. “Together, we can continue to make the MHA a leading voice on healthcare issues. Let’s all work together to make sure the next 75 years of our association are as successful as the first 75.”

Clifford L. Johnson Jr., a retired hospital administrator from Clarksdale, said, “I looked to the association for leadership and guidance and help, especially in my early years in the association. And, it has meant everything to me. They were always there.”

The vice president of professional services at St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital, Trace Swartzfager, says the association has positioned itself to continue to be on the forefront and to educate healthcare leaders.

“In regard to reimbursement, patient care issues, regulatory issues and legislation…on the forefront, really the full package,” he said. “Once again, looking out into the future, I think our state’s hospitals will be looking to the Mississippi Hospital Association to help guide us along these paths.”

Another association past chairman, William Oliver of Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, said the complexity of the market and the competitiveness that exists would make it difficult to compete without the voice of the MHA.

“Without the MHA, there would be a few strong players trying to shape the healthcare industry,” he said. “With the MHA, all members have some kind of voice, and really that’s why the overall organization has remained successful because most people are able to compromise and work together to help the industry versus just their own organization.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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