Opinion – 4/25/2003

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 25, 2003

The Panolian Editorial

For additional opinions and articles,
pick up the 4/25/03  issue of The Panolian

Something’s Wrong With This Picture

Now that city fathers and county supervisors have signed on to hire the accounting firm of Ernst and Young to conduct the hospital study, a decision to sell, lease or keep financially-ailing Tri-Lakes Medical Center as is shouldn’t be too far off.

It’s expected to take about six weeks or so for the $105,000 (plus expenses) study to be wrapped up. Two people from Atlanta are to set up shop at the hospital to do the work. The study will look into current finances, projections for the future and such so an intelligent decision can be made. It’s required by state law anytime the sale or lease of a publically-owned hospital is contemplated.

But I must say I’m still bothered by the hiring of a consulting firm – a middleman, if you will – to oversee the hiring of Ernst and Young and report to the supervisors and city board.

Former Batesville resident J.C. Burns, of Burns Development Group, Ridgeland, was hired for this purpose.

I’ve never been convinced that was a wise expenditure of money but the City Board and Board of Supervisors think so.

I became even less convinced recently when I asked for an itemized bill and found out the firm charged the city/county for Burns and a couple of other folks to come by the newspaper office and talk about some publicity and advertising on behalf of the hospital.

Also, the first Tri-Lakes newsletter – a four-page letter-size document – was published and again paid for by paying Burns’ firm.

It’s one thing for the hospital, like many hospitals, to employ a marketing person to do place advertising and offer feature stories and other hospital news but I’m not comfortable with this deal.

The city fathers, in hiring Burns’ firm said they were doing so because the whole consultant thing is too complicated and time-consuming for them to do. And county supervisors said they’d go along with whatever the city decided.

The city owns 40 percent of Tri-Lakes, the county owns 60 percent.

Why couldn’t Assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell handle the bidding and hiring process for the accounting firm? He’s certainly familiar with Tri-Lakes … as he also represents the hospital board as its lawyer.

I’m not comfortable calling Burns or those working for him to ask questions about the hospital study, etc., for fear taxpayers will be charged for the time.

And, that’s not good. It stifles the free flow of information the public deserve.

For the newsletter and for the talk at the paper and for an article written for the paper, the firm billed on behalf of one person 25.5 hours at $75 a hour for a total of $1,912.50. And billing for a second person was for 23.5 hours at $75 an hour for $1,762.50. These figures don’t include printing, telephone, meals and other expenses involved.

The idea behind this all as I was told was to get the hospital some good publicity … supposedly to help pump up its worth.

But that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I don’t think a newsletter and a cardiac rehab story is going to increase the value of the facility.

Besides, I thought the consultant was hired to coordinate the hiring of an accounting firm.

We’ve never used the story. I just can’t … not how it was paid for. And I guess I was just wasn’t thinking at the time the visit was paid to the paper … somehow it didn’t dawn on me the taxpayers would get billed … and at such an exorbitant rate.

But on the other hand, Burns wasn’t doing anything the hospital committee – made up of aldermen and supervisors – didn’t give the nod to do.

Even so, I think it’s a poor use of our taxpayer dollars.

Maybe I’m wrong. Somebody tell me. But if you do, please do it in a signed letter to the editor so I can share it with our readers.

(Kate Dickson can be reached by email at: editor@panolian.com)

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