Thursday, February 17, 2011
Ole Miss stretches out hand to Alliance
By SUE WATSON
Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones and chief of staff Andy Mullins met with Alliance HealthCare System staffers last week in Holly Springs to initiate talks on how the university can partner with Alliance on projects.
Jones offered the university’s expertise in business and medicine as a way of helping the rural hospital grow.
Rep. Kelvin Buck, who has been associated with the hospital as a consultant, was available to see if the Legislature could provide any suggestions.
Dr. Kenneth Williams, who bought the old hospital stock in 1999 just as it was on the brink of closing, answered lots of questions posed by Jones, a medical doctor and former vice chancellor at the University Medical Center Complex in Jackson before he was tapped to replace chancellor Robert Khayat, who retired last year.
Williams is from south Mississippi. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, obtained a medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Tenn., then interned in Internal Medicine at Wayne State University in Detroit from 1986-1989. He came to Byhalia in October 1989 to fulfill some promises made in college to practice in a rural community and opened his own private practice - Williams Medical Clinic - in 1992.
He is from Moss Point, the hometown of Chancellor Khayat.
Williams built a clinic in Holly Springs on J.M. Ash Drive and was planning to build a hospital behind the clinic when he was approached by Mayor Andre’ DeBerry with the idea to build his hospital near the Highway 78/Highway 7 interchange, an area ripe for economic development.
Williams purchased the 45-year-old hospital which is now inefficient and outdated for today’s modern needs.
In retrospect, the doctor explained that the old hospital is now outmoded.
“When you buy the stock you get the bad with the good,” he said. “Lots of the thermostats on the wall do not work.”
A number of changes has caused Williams to see his plan for a new hospital delayed.
“It has been a wonderful and interesting journey,” Williams said.
There were unexpected financial costs that came up after he purchased the hospital, he said. Then the city of Memphis included Alliance in its statistical area two years ago which means Alliance is categorized as an urban hospital which changed its status. Then Stark Laws exempted Alliance from becoming a critical access hospital.
Since Alliance is a for-profit, privately owned hospital, it is unable to compete for most state and federal funds.
Jones said if the hospital was classified as a rural hospital there would be many things that could be done between the two organizations, but it would be very difficult to reverse the urban classification.
Buck said there is a great need for medical care in Marshall and Benton counties, which are rural.
“We want to explore how you guys can help with and partner through the foundation (Alliance HealthCare Foundation),” Buck said.
He suggested that obesity prevention would be a good project to work on together.
Ole Miss already has a presence in Holly Springs working to train teachers in the summer.
“Ole Miss does a lot with the school system,” Buck said. “If they can turn the schools around, they can turn this health thing around.”
Marshall County has ranked 82 in public health capacity and had the worst health facts in the state in 2005. Yet it is bordered by Lafayette and DeSoto counties which are high ranking in the state, Williams said. Eight of the 10 worst indicators the county is cited for could be changed with preventive health measures and education, he said.
And the clinic and hospital have to fight to attract and retain physicians, because it competes with Oxford and Memphis for staffing, he said.
Williams said he envisions the 32-acre site as a medical complex.
“It is more than just a hospital,” he said. “Emphasis is on preventative medicine.”
The medical complex is to be built in stages. Phase I construction provided the new medical clinic. Phase II will be the construction of a primary care hospital and Phase III will be the construction of a Health and Wellness Center for both exercise and education. Phase IV will be construction of a school of allied health which would offer a two-year program and training in a rural setting.
As far as economic impact, health care is a business and a job creator, Williams said.
Private retail development will surround the medical complex.
“What it means to this community is $110 million,” Williams said. “I think the clinic has made a huge health impact in the area. We have come off the bottom now.”
Jones said Williams’ vision for the medical complex is “interesting, ambitious and will make a difference in the community.”
The economic impact of the initiative is what people relate to, he said.
“We will work to offer experts, where it is useful,” he said. “Don’t feel bad if our ideas do not work for you. The for-profit status may become cumbersome at some levels. So we will need to use the foundation as a vehicle to interface.”
Jones said his mission and heart are in the medical areas.
“My spirit will always be how to improve life for people in our area,” he said. “You have lots of ambition here. A school of allied health is pretty ambitious.”
Williams said since Holly Springs is designated as a retirement community, he also envisions a daytime nursing facility without beds for seniors, where they can participate in activities during the day but remain living at home. Transportation services will have to be worked out, he said.
He also wants to create a program where nurse practitioners go to the home to see the elderly or disabled.
“Accessibility to health care is a big key to our community,” he said.
His heart is with his clients.
“There are lots of rewards in what we do,” Williams said. “One-on-one is beautiful.”
Although the hospital has struggled, the clinic has had a successful and balanced practice financially, Williams said. About 37 percent of clients are third party billing, 31 percent Medicare, 18 percent Medicaid, and 7 percent self-paid, he said.
The hospital relies heavily on Medicare patients.
Williams said he needs help in achieving his goals and welcomed any assistance from Ole Miss.
“This is also Dr. Jones’ mission at the university - to provide service to the surrounding community in any way we can,” Mullins said. “This is right down his alley.”
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