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Madison hospital decison is short-sighted

August 10th, 2010

Sometimes, you wonder if decision makers are looking at the same information you are when rulings or recommendations are handed down.
That’s the quandary I am in pertaining to St. Dominic Hospital’s wish to build a hospital in Madison County.
We reported a story last week that an administrative hearing officer is recommending St. Dominic Hospital not be allowed to build a $121 million hospital in Madison County, to which it would transfer 71 of its existing beds.
The recommendation from administrative law judge Cassandra B. Walter says St. Dominic’s hasn’t justified its case for a certificate of need from the state Department of Health.
Are you kidding me?
Madison County is expected to grow by (the technical term of) leaps and bounds over the next 20 years, and some judge thinks there’s not enough people to warrant more hospitals.
The Health Management Associates-owned Madison County Medical Center opposed St. Dominic’s plans and welcomed the recommendation. HMA broke ground in September 2009 on a new $42 million hospital for its 67 beds off Nissan Parkway in Canton which will be called Madison River Oaks  next summer.
HMA does not want more competition in the area for fear that a new St. Dominic’s facility would take away its private-pay patients, leaving it with more patients insured by Medicaid, which offers lower reimbursements and is damaging to a hospital’s bottom line.
If I were part of the HMA brain trust, I would have opposed the St. Dominic plan too. On the face of it, keeping a hospital out of Madison makes good business sense.
For years, the options for the people in Madison and Ridgeland and most of Madison County have been to drive to Jackson or to drive to the old hospital in Canton.
So, a fancy, new hospital in Canton should mean all those Madison and Ridgeland folks will stay in county for health care.
But a new hospital in Canton isn’t going to change a thing.
Without the new St. Dominic Hospital, people who live in Madison and Ridgeland have the same choices they always have.
Go to Jackson or go to Canton.
My guess is 95 percent of the people who have always gone to Jackson will continue to go to Jackson.
The new Canton hospital will serve Canton and north Madison County as well as some in Yazoo, Holmes Attala and Leake counties. It will also get people from the anticipated growth in Gluckstadt.
Madison and Ridgeland will remain underserved with the exact same choices they have had for the last 60 years.
For Judge Walter to say St. Dominic hasn’t justified its case for a certificate of need is short-sighted and disturbing.
Perhaps Walter has some secret information about predicted metro-area population over the next 30 years. Lacking that, she should realize that the lack of a hospital in the Madison-Ridgeland communities endangers the lives of tens of thousands of people.
St. Dominic and HMA both recognize the future growth of Madison County and want in on the action.
Motive is not the question.
But in talking about money and economics, failing to provide convenient health care will damage the area’s quality-of-life image for those who might have been contemplating a family or business move to here.
Therefore, Walter either doesn’t recognize all of the geographical and economic realities or is blatantly placing the business interests of one group ahead of the other.
In the end, this shouldn’t be about choosing St. Dominic over HMA or the Canton facility. It should be about providing adequate health care facilities for one of the few burgeoning areas of the state.
Walter is wrong, should admit it and reverse her decision.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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