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The Exodus Continues: Three Major Health Systems Leave State Hospital Association

By Devna Bose

Mississippi Today

North Mississippi Medical Center. Photo from Facebook

The Mississippi Hospital Association shrinks again as several hospitals dropped out of the state trade organization this week.

Ochsner Health System and North Mississippi Medical Center recently left the association. Merit Health also severed ties, according to multiple media reports.

The exodus began in late April, when the state’s largest public hospital, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, left the MHA. Memorial Hospital System in Gulfport, Singing River on the coast, George Health System and Forrest General Hospital followed soon after.

Almost none of the hospital’s letters announcing their departure cited a reason beyond doubts with the organization’s “leadership.” All of the hospitals’ leaders have declined to publicly expand on their decisions. 

The separations, however, come on the heels of a major donation from the MHA’s political action committee.

The PAC contributed $250,000, its largest donation in history, to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley’s campaign just days before UMMC dropped out of the organization, MHA executive director Tim Moore previously confirmed to Mississippi Today. 

Presley is an outspoken proponent of Medicaid expansion. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, the incumbent candidate, has adamantly opposed the measure, though a recent poll shows most Mississippians support it.

Research shows Medicaid expansion would bring millions into Mississippi’s struggling hospitals. Moore previously told Mississippi Today that’s why the hospitals’ departures have bewildered him. 

He said the donation to Presley’s campaign was made after the MHA board recommended the move. Though the PAC operates separately from the MHA, it’s also headed up by Moore, who serves on the MHA board. 

Ochsner’s termination letter to the MHA, attributed to Chief Operating Officer and President Mike Hulefeld, reiterated previous hospitals’ concerns about the organization’s leadership. 

“There is tremendous value in having a hospital association that serves as a strategic and thoughtful advocate on issues of importance to Mississippi’s hospitals and the patients we serve,” Hulefeld said in the letter, dated May 19. “Unfortunately, MHA’s current leadership and approach is preventing the association from accomplishing this goal.”

All of the hospitals that Ochsner operates in Mississippi will no longer be part of the MHA, the letter confirmed.

North Mississippi Medical Center declined to provide their termination letter to Mississippi Today, but a spokesperson confirmed that four of their facilities — in Tupelo, Eupora, Iuka and Pontotoc — would be leaving the organization.

Merit Health, which operates nine hospitals across Mississippi, confirmed to Magnolia Tribune that they, too, would be ending their relationship with the MHA. Spokespeople for the hospital system could not be reached by time of publication.

The state trade organization lobbies on behalf of Mississippi’s hospitals. As they continue to lose members, Moore said it would impact their finances and ability to successfully advocate. 

The MHA is largely funded through member dues, and Moore in a previous interview said the departures would have to be accounted for when calculating funding for the next fiscal year, which starts in July.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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