Headlines – 9/1/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 1, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 1, 2006

  From the 9/1/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

     Local airbrush artist Carl Brown put the finishing touches on the new sign for the football stadium Wednesday afternoon. The stadium was renamed Robert H. Dunlap Stadium last spring. The sign was hoisted Thursday morning and now proudly proclaims its new name displayed at Tiger field.
Billing service inks deal with Tri-Lakes
Dallas company could grow to ’75 to 100′ jobs
By John Howell Sr.

Tri-Lakes Medical Center has entered a 10-year agreement with PHNS of Dallas to manage all aspects of the hospital’s revenue cycle, hospital administrator Ray Shoemaker and PHNS officials announced Wednesday.

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"PHNS and Tri-Lakes Medical Center will develop state-of-the-art service programs in Batesville … which will add 75 to 100 jobs over the life of this affiliation," Shoemaker said.

PHNS Advisory Services Division President Henry Stovall said that the company has signed a letter of intent with Utley Properties which would allow the remodeling of the old Wal-Mart building on Keating Road for a regional service center.

PHNS will be responsible for Tri-Lakes’ admissions, registration, medical records, health information management, information technology, billing and collection functions, according to the statement issued jointly by PHNS and Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

"This goes with our promise to build a regional health care facility," Shoemaker continued. "The community has longed for specialty care, … this is no different; this is just another specialty," the hospital administrator continued. Turning over the medical center’s revenue cycle to PHNS "will improve the hospital’s cash flow. That cash flow will be used to fund hospital growth and its breadth of services," Shoemaker said.

The affiliation will provide "higher-end health care jobs in medical transcription, receivables management and ancillary services," PHNS representative Kathy Willis said. Current Tri-Lakes employees performing those services will be able to become nationally certified in their fields to gain commensurate higher salaries, she said.

"They can enroll in training courses, go back to school; they can be further educated so they can pass the national exams," Willis added.

"That will be paid for by us," Shoemaker said of the national certification training for current employees.

"With us partnering with Ray, we’ll look for selected employees; we’ll pay for their education and certification testing," PHNS Chief Operating Officer Larry Schunder said.

The company can offer area colleges on-the-job training affiliations for students who are seeking national medical records certifications, Schunder added.

"We came to Mr. Shoemaker and Tri-Lakes purposefully," Stovall said. The facility’s geographic location was a factor as well the reputation that the medical facility has gained for the turnaround that has occurred there under the management of Shoemaker and Dr. Robert Corkern, whose affiliation with the then-city/county-owned facility began in 2003.

Shoemaker’s and Corkern’s Physicians’ and Surgeons’ Group purchased the facility in January of this year.

"The services (to be utilized by Tri-Lakes) are the same as in a $3 billion health system," Schunder said.

Earlier this month, PHNS announced an affiliation with the prestigious M. D. Anderson Health Center in Dallas, Texas.

Since May, the privately-owned company founded in the early 1990s reached agreement to provide services for eight additional facilities from a 53-bed hospital in Mt. Gilead, Ohio to a 253-bed hospital in Columbia, S.C.

The PHNS decision to establish a Regional Service Center that specializes in working with community hospitals stems from the corporation’s recognition that "the face of health care in non-urban America is changing faster than anywhere else; older community facilities are closing at a startling rate," Stovall said.

"The reimbursement system does work," said Schunder, referring to payment to hospitals from Medicare and Medicaid, "but it is very complicated." PHNS specializes in "proper and timely reimbursement," he added.

Often, hospitals are operating with "antiquated IT systems," the PHNS COO said, which have been discontinued and whose software is no longer supported by its creator.

Rather than a major investment in new software systems compatible with Medicare/Medicaid billing requirements, PHNS says to the struggling community hospital: "Let us take that headache," Schunder continued.

"We believe we can make a change in the paradigm in which community hospitals operate; part of a survival strategy for community and rural hospitals," Stovall said.

In addition to identifying a need within community hospitals for services in reimbursement expertise, Schunder identified another goal recognized by PHNS. "We’re trying to redesign the patient process" in regard to admissions and records to make billing for hospital services more accurate.

Accurate billings facilitate faster payments from third party providers and "makes coming to the hospital less tiresome," Schunder said.

"Hospitals and health care are about doctors and nurses and administrators," Stovall said. "We’re just here to help… ."

Hospital sale funds help pay for summer paving
By Billy Davis

About 22 miles of gravel roads in Panola County have been paved so far this summer, part of county government’s annual road paving program.

"We will have about 50 miles of roads paved by the end of the summer," predicted District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, who provided the mileage numbers.

Avant confirmed that funds the county pocketed from the sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center, a total of about $3 million, are being used this year to pave gravel roads in the county and to resurface paved roads with asphalt.

Avant said he did not know how much of the $3 million is being spent on the paving and asphalting.

"I guess whatever amount Lygunnah needs to get the job done," Avant said, referring to county road manager Lygunnah Bean.

The road paving program uses an oil base and white rock mixture, known as DBST, at a cost of $21,000 per mile, said Bean. The asphalting costs about $50,000 a mile, he said.

The summer paving actually kicked off with asphalting 28 miles of high-traffic roads, such as Curtis and Black Jack, earlier this summer and transitioned into road paving in August.

Bean said then that about $1.5 million was allocated for the asphalt work.

The last asphalt job of the summer is also located in District 4, five-mile-long Good Hope Road, and the road crew will jump back to asphalt work after the road paving is finished.

"We had equipment trouble, which is why we moved on to paving, and I want to finish the paving before we get back on Good Hope Road," Bean said.

A road crew is paving roads this week in District 4 after finishing paving jobs in the county’s other four districts, Bean said.

Upkeep of the county roads is part of the supervisors’ job description and has political importance as well when voters return to the polls. The supervisors are up for re-election next year.

Each summer, however, the number of gravel roads continues to dwindle and the county road department is transitioning away from road construction into a road maintenance role.

"By the time we finish paving next summer we won’t have but about 50 miles of gravel roads left," Avant said.

The county paved about 44 miles and resurfaced another 28 miles last year at a cost of $1.2 million.
This summer, road paving includes:

  • In District 1, Fulmer, Tate-Panola, Hudson, Johnson Cove, Old Panola, Hemingway, Nelson, Fudge Town, E.Q. Gleaton, Dishmon and Jayme Lynn roads.
  • In District 2, Homer Briscoe, Sam Ware, Bonner, Callie Norwood, Indian Creek and Bryant roads.
  • In District 3, Grant, Tinside, Toliver, Big Tree, Little and Travis roads.
  • In District 4, Robison Road (east and west), and Orwood, Gray, Bynum, Murphy Ridge, Loyd and Phelps/Burdett roads.
  • In District 5, Atkinson and Shonnah roads.
Holiday will delay garbage pick-up
By Billy Davis

The Labor Day holiday Monday will delay garbage service by one day in Panola County and Batesville.

Solid Waste manager Dean Joiner advised customers of the delay and asked for patience as the department catches up beginning Tuesday.

"Everything will be caught up by Saturday," Joiner said.

County and city offices, and local banks, will also be closed.

BPD seeks witness to foiled plot
By Billy Davis

Batesville Police Chief Gerald Legge announced Saturday that police officers will make more patrols through the Patton Lane area as part of a community-wide effort to "take back" the area and ensure public safety.

Legge announced his intentions during a second "take it back" meeting, which was held Saturday morning at the Patton Lane Community Center.

Rev. Robert Govan, who organized the meeting, announced plans Saturday to walk the streets at night to observe the goings-on in the community.

Govan also announced plans for a third meeting in late September.

Other than Legge’s announcement and Govan’s planned walk, however, participants made little progress Saturday toward attacking the problems in and around Patton Lane Park.

Neighbors say the park and the surrounding area are known for drug selling, gambling and beer drinking, creating a dangerous environment that prevents children from enjoying the park.

The community center, which formerly served as the Patton Lane Band Hall, is located between the park and public housing apartments.

During a lengthy comment period Saturday, participants spoke mostly about parental responsibility and the need to be role models for children.

Govan told Saturday’s participants, who numbered about 20, that they should talk to people they know whose actions hurt the community.

"Take it back" participant Le Anne Cannon told Govan and others that the community had become "too relaxed" over time and was seeing the effects.

"We’re living in a new day and a new era," Cannon said.

"These meetings are good, but there’s no action behind them," Cannon added.

"I have presented a plan of action," replied Melvin Tucker, who had said earlier in the meeting that providing more job opportunities would curb the community’s troubles.

"Jobs are not on my agenda," Govan had responded to the Tucker’s comment. "What we’re talking about is protecting the community."

According to the police chief, the Patton Lane area will likely see more patrols in coming weeks and months as the police department fills up some patrol spots that were vacant.

Legge said a pay raise for officers approved by city officials last year has helped fill vacancies in the department.

Supervisors set county millage
By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors have nailed down one-half of the county’s 2006-2007 tax millage rate, seeing on paper at their final budget meeting the tax levy that will fund county government for the coming fiscal year.

Panola County Administrator David Chandler announced a county-wide millage rate of 57.21 to supervisors at their meeting Tuesday afternoon at the courthouse in Batesville.

The county’s 57.21 millage rate seemingly creeps beyond this year’s tax levy of 54.91, but the new figure includes 2.3 mills that supervisors have chosen to keep on the books next fiscal year after the South Panola Hospital District was dissolved last year.

Last year, when the county was part owner of the now-private Tri-Lakes Medical Center, the 2.3 mills were spread on the county’s tax rolls as a separate figure that was assessed to the South Panola Hospital District, roughly the south half of the county.

With those hospital mills, last year’s tax levy, minus the school districts, also added up to 57.21 mills.

A tally of the 57.21 mills shows the 2.3 mills is now spread between the county’s road and bridge maintenance fund, which funds the road department, and a note borrowing fund commonly known as tax anticipation.

The road and bridge fund jumped from 8.12 mills to 10 mills, county figures show, while tax anticipation jumped from 1.5 mills to 1.92 mills, a total increase of 2.30 mills.

"So this is not an increase – it’s just a move?" District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins asked Chandler.
"That’s right. It’s not an increase," Chandler confirmed.

Other millage figures include 1.62 mills for the county’s libraries, 2.20 mills and .11 mills respectively for Northwest Community College and a separate fund for building and improvement of the campus, and 30 mills for general operation of county government offices.

Chandler told The Panolian the entire county budget for 2006-2007 is $17.8 million. The biggest slices of the taxpayers’ pie go to the sheriff’s department/jail and road department, which will require $3.25 million each to operate during the fiscal year.

In addition to the road department monies and 8.12 mills for road and bridge maintenance, Chandler acknowledged that $1 million has been "set aside" by supervisors for county road paving next summer.
The summer of 2007 is also an election year for supervisors.

Regarding school millage, Chandler told supervisors Tuesday that North Panola’s millage is capped at 55 mills but said that he is still talking with South Panola officials about their figures.

Last year, the total millage – the countywide millage and public schools together – was 114.84 in north Panola County and 103.31 in south Panola County.

When South Panola announced plans for a budget increase in June, it predicted a millage increase of 1.49 mills, a bump from 43.26 mills to 44.75 mills, to create about $253,000 in new revenue for the school district.

Figures presented Tuesday by Chandler, however, show the school district’s request would bump the tax levy in the South Panola School District to 46.81 mills.

"If it stays as-is, it would be a 2.23-mill increase on the south end (of the county)," Chandler told supervisors.

Reached by The Panolian, South Panola Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer said the school district stands behind its projected numbers.

"We can publicly defend every number that we have," Shaffer said.

By law, public school districts can request and must receive budget increases up to four percent of a county’s "base," meaning its assessed value. That request requires a bump in millage from supervisors, who are technically raising taxes without their approval to meet the budget request.

Last year, Supervisor Jerry Perkins sought to distance the board from any tax raising when supervisors added 3.39 mills in the South Panola School District, increasing the millage from 39.87 to 43.26 to cover South Panola’s budget request.

The North Panola School District topped its millage at 55 mills last year, meaning the district cannot increase its tax levy without a bond issue to raise additional funds. With a current bond of 4.94, North Panola’s millage rate is 59.93 mills, the same as last year, going into the new fiscal year.

The total millage in north Panola County will be be at least 117.14, a number that is bumped 2.3 mills over last year due to adding on the hospital millage.
"The millage could go up if the school district’s bond goes up," said District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, referring to the 4.94 mills.

At South Panola, the overall millage rate won’t be known until Chandler and school officials agree on the numbers. A pair of tax shortfalls from 2002 and 2005, and a school construction note, are also part of the millage rate.

Reached after Tuesday’s meeting, the county administrator said he will announce the total millage – county and school districts – at the supervisors’ September 11 meeting.

Wicker meets with local GOP
By Rupert Howell

First District U.S. Representative Roger Wicker discussed most of the most pressing national issues Monday night when he appeared before the Panola County Republicans at a meeting at Batesville Public Library.

Wicker will face Democrat J. K. "Ken" Hurt in the November 7 general election.

Wicker touched on a couple of local issues, putting his support behind continued development of the Sardis Lake Marina area and four-laning Highway 6 "from one side of the state to the other."

Wicker also acknowledged longtime friends and supporters from the crowd of approximately 50 who attended the meeting during a rainy Monday night.

Wicker voiced his support for the Homeland Security Act stating that it was the British equivalent of that law that recently thwarted a plan to explode several passenger jets and said it was essential that government have surveillance on people who would do harm to people "in this room."

Wicker later asked, "Why should we be dependent on foreign oil?" before endorsing offshore drilling and drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife areas presently off limits.

Saying that America needs more fuel supply, he endorsed drilling more natural gas off the coast in Mississippi and moving toward nuclear power as well as alternative fuels.

He also made note that there were no oil spills last summer in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Wicker said the troops with whom he talks think the U.S. is doing something good in Iraq.

"What would happen if we pull out before the job is done?" he asked.

Concerning immigration, Wicker said, "A sovereign nation protects its borders."

Wicker explained that he didn’t care whether the borders were fenced, walled or virtual fences with cameras, something is needed to monitor "every inch of our border," he said.

He said that foreign workers here legally needed an I.D. card and suggested supplying the cards be outsourced to Mastercard or Visa.

Wicker also stated that it would be wrong to give illegal immigrants citizenship but added that he didn’t foresee a bill coming out this year.


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