Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Greenwood Commonwealth. April 16, 2024.

Editorial: Delta Must Unite On Regional Idea

A Senate committee chairman’s reluctance to push hard for legislation to help the Delta’s hospitals and generally improve health-care delivery in the region was understandable.

After all, the pushback he was getting was primarily from those legislators whose constituents would most benefit from the creation of a Delta Regional Health Authority.

As a result, Sen. David Parker, R-Hernando, who was enlisted by Delta Council to sponsor the legislation the regional group was seeking, decided to let the matter rest for at least another year.

Some recent enhancements in Medicaid funding have probably allowed that time, but the basic argument for creating a regional health authority will be the same tomorrow as it is today: namely, that many hospitals in impoverished rural areas such as the Delta aren’t going to be able to go it alone much longer and those that do survive will only be able to provide a fraction of the services they once did. Declining populations, a patient mix that is heavily dependent on Medicare and Medicaid, and the steady erosion of inpatient care volumes all signal that a new approach is needed.

Creating a regional health authority in the Delta would be just such an approach. By joining in a collaborative, hospitals could share hard-to-recruit specialists and reduce costs through collective buying of the goods and services they use. Expensive duplication could be eliminated. And while patients might have to travel for some of the more specialized services, they would not have to travel as far as if they had to go to Jackson or Memphis to find them.

Unfortunately, the concept was met with distrust when it was first unveiled at the Capitol earlier this year. Several Delta lawmakers were offended that they were not brought to the table when the plan was being formulated by Delta Council and the health-care experts it had enlisted. These lawmakers, mostly Democrats, tended to see the proposal as a power grab that would remove local control of the hospitals and give it to an entity dominated by appointees of the Republican governor and lieutenant governor. It probably didn’t help that in the Senate and in the House, the sponsors of the legislation were also Republicans, and neither of them lived in the 18 counties in which the Delta Regional Health Authority would operate.

The fact is, though, for a regional authority to work, power has to be apportioned differently. There has to be a body that looks out for what’s best for the entire multi-county system, not just what’s best for one particular hospital or one particular community. It requires looking at the allocation of medical resources from a regional perspective, not a local one. The only way that happens is by giving up some local control.

Such relinquishing of power, though, would be voluntary. As the bill was written, any community hospital that didn’t want to participate would not have to, but those that did participate would most likely get a seat at the table where the decisions are made. There would still be local input but from several communities — similar to how a city or county government operates, which takes into account the wishes or concerns of every ward or district but has to decide what’s best for the whole.

With some more time to digest what’s being proposed, hopefully the Delta’s delegation will come around and realize that regionalization is the best way to deal with the many challenges that rural health care faces today.

If everyone stays focused on what’s most important — not power but preserving health care in the region for people who live in the region — the legislation should follow. But if the Delta comes across as too divided on the idea, it’s unlikely the legislation will ever pass.