Panola County supervisors learned Monday morning that bidders for the Tri-Lakes Medical Center are very close to getting detailed information regarding the hospital’s finances and day-to-day operations.
Packets containing data on 54 topics are being prepared for distribution to the bidders. When those items are in hand, the bidding process will progress to onsite visits from the bidders, Panola County Administrator David Chandler told supervisors.
A timeline for naming the winning bidder went unannounced, however.
Chandler said the items in question vary from financial statements and hospital birth records to staff salaries and emergency room admissions.
Five bidders are seeking to purchase the publicowned hospital, and the 54 items in question – vital to move the sale along – are at the center of a political tug-of-war that began when Chandler was appointed to the hospital board in December.
Chandler is chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees, a position he was appointed to by the supervisors to help gather the 50-plus items for the bidders.
Additional hospital trustees have been appointed by the county and the City of Batesville in the past few months as well, replacing trustees who reportedly were uncooperative with all but one bidder – hospital administrator Dr. Bob Corkern.
Batesville Mayor Bobby Baker and Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins have accused Corkern and the former trustees of being uncooperative.
Corkern, in turn, told The Panolian last month that he and the former hospital trustees cooperated fully with the other bidders’ requests.
"We never denied anybody any information – ever, ever, ever," Corkern told The Panolian in January.
At the February 14 "second Monday" meeting, Chandler said the bidders are happy with the current process.
"We have two bidders back at the table after they walked away," Chandler told the supervisors.
After predicting a January 31 date for selecting a bidder, Chandler did not speculate again on an expected date to announce the new owner.
"It’s taking more time than anticipated," he said.
Also in the supervisors’ meeting, Chandler assured the supervisors that talk of the Tri-Lakes employees "getting tired" of the bidding process is exaggerated.
Chandler said the employees "feel comfortable now" with the current situation and have a "rapport" with the new board of trustees.
Reached after the meeting, Perkins said Chandler addressed the issue because of "courthouse talk" that some Tri-Lakes employees were planning to confront the supervisors at a board meeting about their frustration with the process and their support for Corkern.
"It was just a rumor we heard two months ago, and it never materialized," Perkins said.
Tri-Lakes employees reached by The Panolian said they were indeed frustrated about the current situation and worried about their jobs.
"I can speak on behalf of the employees here when I say we’re stressed out because we don’t know who we’re going to work for," said staffing coordinator Melissa Phelps. "We’re just ready for this to be over."