By Daniel Brunty
The Choctaw Plaindealer
Many Choctaw County residents expressed their feelings and concerns regarding the next healthcare provider for the county’s hospital and nursing home during the Choctaw County Board of Supervisors meeting on May 30 at the Choctaw County Courthouse.
The meeting, which began in the Board of Supervisors boardroom in the courthouse, had to be moved upstairs to the courtroom because of the huge crowd on hand. With the July 31st deadline of Pioneer terminating its lease with the county, the board had spent the previous few meetings with representatives of healthcare providers for a possible sell or long-term lease of the hospital and/or nursing home, with an option of interim management if needed.
The meeting began with the board being addressed by Choctaw County Medical Foundation President Rick Jenkins. Jenkins began his presentation with some questions for the board. His first question was to ask the board that from the talks of the previous meeting is the county is leaning toward hiring a management firm to manage the hospital and nursing home.
Board president Chris McIntire responded by telling Jenkins that the board had made no formal vote either way, but it is leaning toward hiring a management firm. Jenkins then asked if the county did chose to hire a management firm, will the county need a hospital board of trustees. Members of the board answered yes to his question.
Jenkins then asked what kind of responsibilities the board of trustees will have. Board attorney Steve Wright responded to Jenkins by telling him that those responsibilities are listed in the statute, however, he could not list them at that time.
Jenkins then went on to explain that he and the other members of the CCMF Board of Directors had discussed for many hours to offer their services to become the Choctaw County Board of Trustees if they chose the option of management. Jenkins explained how some of the districts had no representatives on the current board. Jenkins said to have full representation, District 2 Supervisor Larry McClain and District 1 Supervisor Archie Collins would have the option to choose someone to represent their districts on the proposed board of trustees.
“This would give a full representation of each district, and make it a seven-member board of trustees,” Jenkins said. “That is if the board can have seven members.”
Jenkins informed the board that this was their decision, but this would be a way for the foundation to assist with healthcare in the county. Jenkins then asked the board where does it stand on getting the provider number from Pioneer (All facilities that participate in the Medicare program are assigned a federal Medicare Provider Number. This number identifies a facility for claim processing, cost reporting etc.)
McIntire responded to Jenkins’ question by informing him that their attorney is in the process of doing preliminary paperwork that can be done without submitting it at this time, which will allow for a smooth transition of the provider number. McIntire also explained to Jenkins that there will be some federal and state processing that can delay it.
Jenkins also asked if anyone on the board if they had sat down with the CEO of Pioneer Mr. Joe McNulty to discuss the issue of the provider number. McIntire informed Jenkins that their legal counsel has contacted Mr. McNulty, as well as sent him a letter that they would be acknowledging later in the meeting.
McIntire did give some of the information of the letter, including that upon agreement with Pioneer’s legal counsel and the county’s legal counsel that he would be part of the transition team, who is the individual to provide information to the board regarding this legal matter. McIntire will meet weekly with Pioneer’s transition team member to create a smooth transition when Pioneer leaves.
Jenkins went on to say that he and the foundation’s board of directors have discussed visiting Mr. McNulty at his offices in Magee as a neutral party and explain their concerns. Jenkins said it has not been decided if they will do this or not. He then finished his presentation.
Next on the agenda to address the board was concerned citizen Penny Lucas. Lucas began by reiterating her interest in the nursing home, and how it has been neglected. Lucas stated that she and Charlotte Reed had visited numerous nursing homes in the state, with some of those being out-of-date and having major issues, to some that were better. One in particular Lucas informed the board of was Lexington Healthcare, under Cognos Management.
Lucas described the facilities as “a hotel for the elderly”, with bright colors, clean floors, and a no-hospital type setting. She urged the supervisors to visit the facility and others before making any decisions on the nursing home. “We hope you as supervisors take interest in this matter as much as we do,” Lucas said. “Please do not make hasty decisions that will cause us to be in the same position as we have been in the past few months.”
After the presentation by Lucas, McIntire informed her that as a board they will do their best to find the right provider that the people of the nursing home deserved. District 5 Supervisor Eric Chambers then chimed in stating that the supervisors as well as any concerned citizen should go visit the facilities of the management organizations who are vying for the county’s business.
Next, the board took questions from the public. During the question session, Jenkins made another statement to the supervisors. “We got nine patients in our hospital right now, and we are averaging 10 or so people a day through the ER,” Jenkins said. “That place is making money people. You can sit there and think ‘we shouldn’t have built it’ but that thing is making money under extreme circumstances.”
McIntire followed up on that point. “I think that is a testament to the employees that care about our county,” McIntire said. “Everybody that I talked to from my district has told me that their experience at the hospital was the best they ever had. We have a hidden treasure there that people don’t realize the quality of care that you receive there.”
The board was also asked if a management organization was to take over the hospital and nursing home, would they bring in their own administrators and other staff and replace others who are currently in their positions.
“If that is what they deem best to make this thing move forward to utilize their model, which has worked in five other counties, and worked well,” McIntire said. “Am I going to make my decision based on two peoples’ jobs, or am I going to do it based on what’s best for our county, our hospital, and our residents, that’s a decision we will have to make.”
Other concerns that expressed by residents was the repetitive use of Rush Health Systems in conversation by the supervisors, mainly McIntire. “There’s been much promotion seems to me on Rush,” Chambers said. “Has the board or anyone on the board made a predetermination that yes that’s who I want is Rush?”
McIntire responded to the question. “I would really like to see Rush,” McIntire said. “We still have to see all the proposals, dollar amounts that come back and all that, so as of right now that is where I stand.”
District 4 Supervisor David Carter then made a response. “Now where I stand is that those proposals will come in, and they will bring them to us and we are going to look at what they are going to offer and what it is going to cost us,” Carter said. “I will say because the cost itself is not going to be my main decision, its healthcare what I am looking at. But when they bring them in we are supposed to be able to negotiate with them.”
Another concern was the actual process the board would take regarding choosing a healthcare provider during the upcoming meeting on June 9. Choctaw native Kenny King wanted to know if the board would be making a decision regarding which healthcare provider they will choose on that date. “We hope to be able to make a decision on June 9, if not we will need to recess until the next day, and the next day until we reach that decision,” McIntire said.
Another question for the board was would there be a possibility of selling the nursing home if they did not reach a management agreement. “We have not formally voted on anything,” McIntire said. “But me personally, no I do not want to sell the nursing home.”
The board was also asked if they did hire a management organization, would they have the capability of bringing doctors to the hospital. “They have the resources to bring them in,” McIntire said.
After answering other numerous questions from the public, the board handled other matters, including reviewing a letter from Watkins & Eager. The letter sets forth the legal position of the county that Pioneer did not have the authority to terminate their contract and also setting forth transition teams for both the county and Pioneer. The letter names McIntire as representative for the county for the transition team and Vice President of hospital operations of Pioneer Health System Steve Fontaine as representative for Pioneer.
This will help work through the transition come August. A motion was made to recognize the letter and spread a copy unto the minutes. The motion passed unanimously.
In other news, the board:
- Approved to move the meeting upstairs to the courtroom and post on the boardroom door.
- Approved Payroll.
- Approved postage request of $237.32 by Lori Kerr, tax assessor.
- Approved to refund Salathiel Presley $156.28 for 2011 and $155.34 for 2012 over assessment
- Inventory deletion of printer that was inoperable
- Recognize the retiring of Willie Miller on May 12, 2014 presented by the Sheriff
- Approved Wesley Strutton to full-time at a rate of 10 per hour with the Sheriff’s Dept.
- Approved to advertise for an open position in Solid Waste Dept. for a driver
- Approved to enter a letter from Watkins and Eager and spread unto the minutes. The letter was dealing with the transition of ownership of the provider number.
- Approved the hiring of Kenny Wilcher as Solid Waste Operations Manager.
- Approved to appoint Jimmy Ralph McClure to represent Choctaw County on the MS Housing Authority
- The board recessed the meeting until June 2, 2014. During the June 2 meeting, the board:
- Approved agenda
- Approved May minutes
- Approved jail inspection
- Approved claims
- Recognized certificates of completion of courses 500 & 402 by Tax Assessor Lori Kerr
- Approved to advertise to lay two inches of asphalt on the East & West sections of Breland Road
- Approval for MS Forge – accepting true value and recognize change in dollar amount.
- Approve the applications for Homestead exemption submitted in 2014.
- Approved the travel expense of the Circuit Clerk to travel to Circuit Clerk’s Convention in June.
- Approved the payment of Edwards for easement on the Sanders Road bridge Project
McIntire also updated the board that the management organizations vying for the county’s business would like to run both the hospital and nursing home should they receive the contract. McIntire also discussed with the board about making visits to the management organizations’ facilities before the June 9 meeting. No action was taken on either matter.
The board recessed their meeting until June 9, 2014 at the Choctaw County Courthouse.