Supervisors vote to talk about hospital project

OXFORD — Lafayette County supervisors have voted to move forward with negotiations with Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi on the medical center’s plans to build a new $300-million facility in Oxford.

The Oxford Eagle reports that next up in the process is the Oxford City Council.

Earlier this week, the board of supervisors voted to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the hospital. The hospital wants to buy out of the original lease it had with the city of Oxford and Lafayette County for about $60 million.

“We’re ready to iron out the details,” said board president Lloyd Oliphant.

A memorandum of understanding is a formal agreement between two or more parties. Legally, a memorandum of understanding tends to be more binding than a verbal agreement; however, it is less binding than a formal contract.

In 2009, Baptist announced its plans to replace the current hospital with a new $300-million facility. Baptist wants buy the existing facility and buy its way out of a lease with the city and county, which currently own the hospital. That lease isn’t set to expire until 2034.

“We offered $50 million,” Baptist attorney Dick Cowart said. “But the city and county negotiated well and got us up to $60 million. But that’s as high as we can afford to go and still be able to afford to build the new facility.”

The county and city would split the money. How it will be paid — whether lump sum or payments — has not yet been decided.

Cowart said Baptist has not selected a site to build the new hospital.

“We can’t get to that before the sale is approved,” he said.

Baptist said it cannot grow or expand on its current site because it is landlocked on 13 acres. The hospital cannot build up because of new seismic codes.

Baptist leased the hospital from the city and county in 1989.

State laws prohibited selling hospitals owned by cities or counties to the private sector, although they could lease the property and buildings. The hospital was a 150-bed facility then. Since then, the hospital has grown to a 217-bed facility, employing 1,000 people.

“We have reached the conclusion that putting another $40 million into the current facility for another 15 years is a waste of money,” Cowart said.

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