STARKVILLE – Oktibbeha County voters are a step closer to deciding if they should stay in the hospital business.
The Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk’s office certified more than 1,800 signatures on a petition asking for a county referendum on plans to sell OCH Regional Medical Center.
As the petition was being finalizing, the OCH Regional Board of Trustees told the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors it couldn’t meet the timeline to gather information for the due diligence report and would delay releasing confidential information until after an anticipated election.
On Monday, the supervisors acknowledged the petition drive and heard from attorneys about its options. The supervisors will consider the next steps at the next meeting, including setting an election date, said Board President Orlando Trainer, who has long advocated that the county consider selling OCH Regional.
“Nothing has happened that we didn’t anticipate,” Trainer said of the petition. “It has an impact on the process, but it doesn’t kill it.”
Since the fall, the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors has been exploring the options to sell or lease the hospital. Earlier this month, the board voted 3-2 to request proposals from interested health care systems.
Former Starkville Alderman Frank Davis led the petition drive, working with about a dozen other volunteers to gather signatures since February. Most people signing the petition expressed satisfaction with the hospital, Davis said.
“If it’s sold or leased and 10 years down the road you find it’s no good, there’s no way to go back,” Davis said.
Further complicating the 60-day call for proposals for the sale or lease of the hospital is the dispute over the due diligence report. The supervisors appoint the hospital trustees and have the authority to sell county-owned property. The trustees have oversight of the hospital operations.
Last week, the trustees told the supervisors it would take 60 to 90 days to complete. Additionally, the trustees said they would delay providing any confidential information until after the anticipated referendum because of concerns about putting the hospital at a disadvantage in recruiting and operations.
Trainer said there certainly can be conversations over what is a reasonable period to gather information, but the period isn’t open ended.
“In my opinion, after an election is clearly unreasonable, Trainer said.