Mississippi’s Board of Trustees for the Institutions of Higher Learning, IHL, wants all of the Dan Jones hullabaloo to blow over. They are hoping spring will take its natural course on those protesting Ole Miss student bodies. Then the IHL Board can get back to operating in their usual anonymity where they are much safer. They’ve looked pretty silly out in the open.
The saga continues with no definitive statement from IHL as to whether or not the embattled chancellor will get his job back. We do know that Dr. Jones’ apparent refusal to cater to every IHL wish in regard to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) resulted in IHL’s spending thousands upon thousands of dollars in audits designed specifically to discredit him.
Audits of the UMMC found concerns and questions with almost $22 million worth of expenditures during a 6-year period. They found nothing illegal. Of course, the total amount of expenditures audited over that period was around $7 billion. When people throw numbers around like million and billion, it is important to note that it takes one thousand millions to make one billion. In other words, IHL’s concerns over $22 million, in this case, is like expecting your child to spend $100 dollars wisely and getting irritated when he purchases a gumball for a quarter.
Past IHL Commissioner, Hank Bounds seemed to make it his personal quest to pry UMMC away from Dr. Jones, if not besmirch him. But even Bounds admitted to the IHL Board that the audit reports did not indicate “malfeasance or personal gain” on the part of Jones or the Medical Center staff.
There is a history of bad blood between the leadership at the Medical Center and IHL. Sources pointed back to a story which ran in the Mississippi Business Journal in 2011 concerning an email from democratic strategist and consultant, Jere Nash, to the president of the Delta Council and Gov. Bryant’s recent appointee to the IHL Board, Chip Morgan.
The email came to light during discovery of a court case involving Delta Health Alliance CEO Karen Fox. In the email, Nash offers Morgan strategies to discredit then Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat, who had proved unwavering in his support of Dan Jones and the work he was doing as vice-chancellor of UMMC.
Dr. Jones was not playing nice with the newly formed Delta Health Alliance, a federal earmark program that Chip Morgan helped secure for the state. The email and its contents are interesting given the fact that Morgan was confirmed as an IHL Board Member on Tuesday.
Back when the Delta Health Alliance was flush and before their CEO was being investigated for misuse of funds, DHA pushed an electronic medical records program they developed through a no-bid contract. There was big, big money to be made by this private company and some argued the company was too cozy with its CEO. They also argued the electronic medical records product they were pushing on Mississippi was not what Mississippi hospitals needed.
UMMC, under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Jones, was not interested in it and was none too thrilled with much of the activities of the DHA. This was likely the impetus for Nash’s email to Morgan. Nash accused UMMC of using “a scorched earth policy” in relationships with healthcare groups like the Delta Health Alliance. He refers to the “College Board” as a way to apply pressure on Khayat and as well as discredit him.
Why Morgan would need reasons for discrediting Khayat and the ultimate objective are not made clear in Nash’s two page email, but it is a fascinating read. Morgan told the MBJ in 2011, “We were trying to work through some problems at UMC about the electronic health records system.” Morgan also said he was not aware “of any of the things mentioned (in the email) ever happening.”
Whether this may have triggered the hunt for the head of UMMC or not, the email in question was not brought up during Morgan’s confirmation hearing for the IHL Board last week.
Morgan is a crackerjack and his nomination to the IHL Board makes sense. He is an Ole Miss Man. He has brought loads of federal dollars to the state. His acumen and agility working up and down both sides of the political aisle has been a boon for the Delta Council and the Stoneville Research Facility. He is a man of considerable influence and power in the Mississippi Delta. Nevertheless, eyebrows are now raised over what his appointment to the IHL Board might mean, particularly as it pertains to UMMC.
Morgan already has a tremendous amount of responsibility. One wonders why someone of his status would be willing to serve on the IHL Board. Having Morgan now confirmed by the Senate, we will eventually learn whether or not he has an agenda or whether he is simply a part of someone else’s agenda. Or whether he just wanted the cushy nine-year gig on IHL’s Board of Trustees.
More than payback for an old grudge, this is about control of the lucrative and outrageous amounts of money spent on healthcare in our state. We decry federal spending, or at least the federal spending over which we have limited control. However, once those federal dollars arrive in our state we latch on to it for dear life. And there are massive dollars flowing in and out of UMMC, both public and private, and whoever manages that flow has considerable power.
It may not make much sense for the school up north to maintain control of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. But thanks to IHL’s bumbling of Chancellor Jones’ non-renewal, even people who know nothing about our state’s healthcare system believe Dan Jones and his team will do a better job of running UMMC than anyone or any group IHL might name. So where does IHL go from here?
They will likely retreat to the secrecy of their closed-door executive sessions. They operate so much better, if not honestly, out of the public eye. Nothing is worse than billions of our tax dollars being manipulated in secret. We all know that politics is about who get’s what. It is that pure. It is that simple. IHL should come clean about who they expect to manage UMMC. But that will only happen if public pressure continues.
IHL is counting on Mississippians to look the other way and most of us will. But be prepared: Before this current round of IHL appointees leaves the IHL Board, the University of Mississippi Medical Center will be out from under Ole Miss and much of its operations will be privatized. Mississippians won’t know what happened until it’s a done deal.
But just maybe those protesting students in Oxford will help bring all of this dark matter into the light. Their atmosphere in the Grove last week was electric. The Grove tends to look like a young Republicans rally, if not a rally for the John Birch Society. But anyone familiar with Oxford knows there is no better hippie leftist than an Ole Miss hippie leftist. And from the video reports, the full spectrum of students spoke with one voice. Even this die-hard State fan got chills when the students began chanting Hotty Toddy as they vowed to Stand with Dan.
» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.