Taxpayer dollars in Hancock County continue to go to Medical Center

Taxpayer dollars in Hancock County continue to go to Medical Center
Nearly $1 million in taxpayer money has went to Hancock County Medical Center as officials wait for Oschner to take it over. (Source: WLOX)

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (AP) - Hancock County leaders are expressing mixed feelings over a deal that would use taxpayer money to bail Hancock Medical Center out of a financial jam.

This week, county leaders paid $200,000 for operating costs and payroll to the hospital. Another $600,000 in taxpayer dollars was spent in December for the same thing.

Board of Supervisors President Blaine LaFontaine says the county is doing what's necessary so the hospital can maintain for now. But officials are hoping to have the New Orleans-based Oschner Health Systems take over the medical facility as soon as possible.

Gary Yarborough, the attorney for Hancock County Board of Supervisors, said the county is actively working to speed up the process in order to save taxpayers from additional costs.

"This is nothing new. You look at community hospitals all over the state, all over the country, they're largely being subsidized," said Yarborough. "We're looking to maintain the facility. We're going through the Oschner transition, and we're still looking forward to closing that within the next couple months, going through the final credentialing and licensing."

So far the county has spent nearly $1 million to keep the medical center running, which concerns Hancock County supervisor Scotty Adam.

"I hate expending money when the deal should have been closed," said Adam.

Originally, county leaders were hoping to have everything transferred to Oschner by November. Now, Adam says supervisors are being told it might be April before the Louisiana-based health system will have the licensure it needs to take over Hancock Medical Center.

"That's very possible," said Adam. "That's a great possibility, actually."

Yarborough said next week, he and other county leaders will meet with payers in Jackson to see what they can do to speed the process along.
"Everything's been in the works for a long time," said Yarborough. "We just need to get to the finish line."

Hancock County supervisors dipped into their general fund to come up with the money Hancock Medical Center needed. Adam said one of his frustrations is that the supervisors have no guarantee to taxpayers that they will ever be reimbursed for the hospital's financial bailout.

"It's money we're having to take out of our funds," said Adam. "It shouldn't have cost us any out of pocket expense."

But Yarborough says the county is in a position right now to be able to help the hospital during the final stages of the transition. 
"We've got one of the largest cash balances we've had in a long time, so the county is right now able to help it in the meantime, until we get it closed," said Yarborough. "Then we'll be entering a long-term 25 year agreement with Oschner."

Throughout the course of that 25 years, Oschner is set to invest $33.75 million in lease payments and capital investments into the county and the facility. As WLOX News Now reported in September that money will be used to recruit physicians, implement leading electronic healthcare information systems, and expand clinical services. It's a move that county leaders say will be positive for all of South Mississippi.

"We're happy to have Oschner come in here in general. They're a good name," said Yarborough. "They'll be good to have in the community and with the expanded services, we've been looking forward to getting it done. We started this process 18 months ago with a lot of colloquy about what it would look like, and we're glad that Oschner will be in here for the long term."

The agreement also includes the option to purchase at the end of the 25-year lease term.

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