Methodist Moving Forward; Baptist Mum on Plans
On the heels of recent news that Mississippi Board of Health members anticipate more than one certificate of need (CON) for DeSoto County, speculation is swirling about whether Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare will submit the winning CON application, Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation will apply for one as well, and if other healthcare systems plan to join the competition or oppose Methodist's plan.
For now, Methodist is the only hospital system adamant about moving forward with its CON application. Methodist has sought to build a 100-bed hospital in Olive Branch for much of this decade, and recently closed a $5 million deal to buy 40 acres on the southeast corner of Highway 78 and Bethel Road.
The Board voted 5-3 on July 8 to adopt changes to the state health plan, allowing for consideration of a second hospital in counties with populations of 140,000 or more. The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) Office of Health Policy and Planning expects DeSoto County to be the only county in Mississippi to meet the need requirement for fiscal year 2010.
Soon after the July 8 vote, Methodist officials announced plans to apply for a letter of intent to seek a CON for a 100-bed hospital in Olive Branch on Aug. 1. By September, Methodist's application could be filed with the MSDH.
"Nothing has changed about our plans," said Methodist spokesperson Ruth Ann Hale. "We're still moving forward as we announced after the Board of Health adopted the CON revisions."
Hale, who commutes to Memphis from DeSoto County on a routine basis, noted what other DeSoto Countians groan about: Goodman Road is nearly as congested as Germantown Parkway, another fast-growing, heavily populated area. "Another hospital is desperately needed in Olive Branch," she said. "Believe me, I know!"
Even though Board officials have said it could take until springtime before they consider the Methodist CON application, David Baytos, senior vice president and CEO of Mississippi and International Healthcare Services for Methodist, told Olive Branch Chamber of Commerce members in August that "we're hoping for a Mississippi Board of Health recommendation by November."
Mum's the word for Baptist, which established Baptist Memorial Healthcare-DeSoto in 1988, the only hospital located in DeSoto County. Other than a few non-specific, long-range expansion and upgrade plans on the books, nothing has been mentioned about Baptist applying for a CON for another hospital within the county. The healthcare system has also not acknowledged whether it will oppose Methodist's CON application.
"It's too early for us to say what we will or won't do at this point," said Baptist corporate spokesperson Ayoka Pond.
Because filing a CON application is a very costly and time-intensive process, that fact alone may deter other hospital systems from undertaking such a project with an uncertain outcome.
Luke Lampton, MD, a family physician from Magnolia who chairs the Board of Health, said the winning CON application will improve access to trauma care in North Mississippi, provide outpatient services to contiguous counties without a hospital and therefore improve medical access in Tunica County, and agree to provide a high percentage of care to indigent patients and Medicaid patients, thus improving access to care for the uninsured and financially disadvantaged.
"Most automatically assume that what was approved gave Methodist a hospital in Olive Branch," said Lampton. "It did not. This is not a done deal. The board's action initiates a fair and competitive process to provide a hospital in a heavily populated region, which needs an additional facility. I think at the end of the day, the Board of Health's action with this matter will leave the state in a better position from a public health standpoint than just handing Methodist a CON through the legislature. These CON changes have been carefully crafted to improve access to medical care not only in DeSoto County, but also in nearby counties, such as Tunica County, which is medically underserved."
Lampton said the CON process can be complicated, and is sometimes difficult to explain in a sound bite or a newspaper story.
"I think this slant (additional competition for a CON) to the issue needs to be fleshed out for the general public," said Lampton. "I do think Methodist is very serious about the Olive Branch hospital and will be doing its best to have the most outstanding proposal."