Headlines – 10/3/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – October 3, 2006

  From the 10/3/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

First office hirings coming at new billing firm
By John Howell Sr.

PHNS is on target with plans to renovate the old Wal-Mart building to become the Batesville Regional Service Center of PHNS, Advisory Service Division President Henry Stovall said this week.

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Twenty job openings will be announced at the first of November, the PHNS president said. The openings will include medical record coders, medical transcriptionists and administrative support positions. Applications will be handled through Batesville’s WIN Job Center at 103-16 Woodland Drive, he added.

The affiliation of Tri-Lakes Medical Center and PHNS was announced in August. Tri-Lakes will become the first hospital customer for the Batesville Regional Service Center. Employees of Tri-Lakes’ business office and medical records departments became employees of PHNS on Monday, Stovall said.

Internal renovations in the old Wal-Mart building on Keating Road will begin during the first week in November, and a ribbon cutting ceremony is tentatively scheduled there for January 12, Stovall said.

Stovall said this week has been devoted to planning utilization of the space to be remodeled as well as meeting with Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons. The PHNS official praised the work of Simmons and the Partnership for coordination between local and state government officials.

"This has been a dream project," the Partnership CEO said. "Everything that might have been an obstacle has just melted away."

Stovall is also meeting with officials of Northwest Mississippi Community College (NWCC) to plan utilization of the college’s medical technology programs to allow student internships that will lead to jobs following graduation.

"Right now there’s a nationwide need for nationally-credentialed medical records coders," Stovall said. Where the appropriate required medically-related curriculums are taught, there is little opportunity for hands-on experience, he continued. Through Northwest, the Batesville Regional Service Center can provide the hands-on experience, mentoring, training and then hiring, he said.

Stovall said he also hopes to locate medical coders, transcriptionists and administrative personnel who are commuting to the Memphis area who and who are interested in working closer to home. The PHNS official said that he also hopes to reach "people in Mississippi working as medical coders, probably underpaid, who haven’t had a chance to become nationally certified." These people can also receive additional training, mentoring with increased pay and benefits, he said.

PHNS describes itself as an "innovative healthcare services company that provides strategic solutions in information technology, health information management and patient financial services to over 400 hospitals and healthcare customers across the nation," according to its Web site, www.phns.com. PHNS plans for Batesville to become a regional center for hospitals in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and northern Louisiana, Stovall said.

In its agreement with the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), PHNS will create a minimum of 120 jobs, Stovall said. "Our internal goal is 150 jobs in the service center," he added.

MDA has offered financial incentives through rebates and tax exemptions if PHNS complies with the employment goals for the Batesville center, Panola Partnership Director Sonny Simmons said. They include reaching the minimum 120 jobs and paying at least 125 percent of the county’s average wage rate, Simmons added.

"This adds an element of diversity to our community," Simmons said, offering highly skilled jobs with commensurate rates of pay.

Stovall said that factors contributing to the PHNS decision to establish the regional service center in Batesville included its location on Interstate 55 and near the Memphis International Airport, and Tri-Lakes CEO Ray Shoemaker who "was one of the primary reasons we chose Batesville."

"Without Momentum Mississippi we would not have qualified" for tax rebates and exemptions through the MDA, the PHNS official added, referring to Gov. Haley Barbour’s economic development package passed in a special session of the legislature last year.

Stovall said that PHNS is negotiating a 10-year lease for the old Wal-Mart location.

"I hope this sends a pretty strong message to the community," Stovall continued. "We’re not passing through."

Former BPD officer facing rape charge
By Jason C. Mattox

A former detective with the Batesville Police Department was indicted on a charge of statutory rape by a Panola County grand jury during its August session.

The indictment, obtained from the Panola County circuit clerk’s office, indicates that Michael Roberts Jr., 26, allegedly committed the act of statutory rape with a child at least 14 years of age but under the age of 16.

According to the indictment, the incident took place "on or about the 29th day of April, 2006."

Roberts’ resignation from the Batesville Police Department was accepted without comment May 21 by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

A reason for his resignation was not given at the meeting.

Batesville police officials had no comment about the matter when reached by The Panolian.

A start date for the trial has not been set at this time, said a spokesman for the Panola circuit clerk’s office.

Parents, students, teachers helping beautify Pope campus
 About 15 Pope School parents, teachers and students worked together all day Saturday to beautify the campus and install the school’s new walking trail.

Parent and PTA member Lacey Gentry said that Lowe’s gave the school a $5,000 grant for the project and donated man-hours, trees, equipment and supplies to the school.

"I specified what I wanted: bird houses, a fish pond, picnic tables and swings," said Gentry, who submitted the grant application.

The trail will be about half a mile long and will have fitness stations so the kids can do different activities like "pull ups" and work out, said Pope School’s principal Susan Vance.

The completed pond will be home to goldfish.

The project is not yet complete, and volunteers are still needed to help finish it, Vance said.

Job fair builds up construction careers
     A high school student takes a ride on an MDOT bucket truck Friday at the Construction Career Fair. More than 600 students attended the event at the Lehman-Roberts plant west of Batesville.
By Billy Davis

About 600 high school students experienced the lure of powerful machines and heard a promise of good-paying jobs during a construction career fair held Friday west of Batesville.

The Batesville site of construction company Lehman-Roberts served as headquarters for the fair, the first of its kind held in north Mississippi.

The Miss. Department of Transportation hosted career fairs last week in Canton as well as Batesville.

At Lehman-Roberts, located at the end of Farrish Gravel Road, a steady line of yellow school buses deposited about 600 teenagers at the event.

During a tour of the career fair, students donned hard hats as they operated a backhoe and rode an MDOT bucket truck 20 feet into the air.

Construction companies from across the state also attended, welcoming students to their booths to describe the variety of jobs available to high school graduates. Jobs highlighted at the fair ranged from heavy machinery operators and truck drivers to engineers and office personnel.

"There’s a perception that construction means using a shovel to dig a ditch, and we’re hoping this career fair helps change that attitude," said Jamie Sullivan, Mississippi manager for Lehman-Roberts.

Independence High School senior Ladora Porter got behind the controls of a Komatsu backhoe with help from MDOT employee John Rice.

"I was scared of that thing," Porter said as she climbed down. "It was neat but scary."
A lingering problem with construction work is recruiting and retaining good workers, said Kay Russell, whose New Albany-based company, Riverside Traffic Systems, brought striping equipment to the fair.

"We need people who will show up everyday and be willing to learn," Russell said. "The problem isn’t the money because the pay is good. The problem is finding good help."

One purpose of the career fair is to introduce construction work to a new generation of potential workers, said Lehman-Roberts president Rick Moore.

"We’re excited to show them what we do everyday," Moore said. "If just one-tenth of these students make this a career, then we’ve helped some of these kids decide what they want to do."

Bombing threats called in
By Billy Davis

A pair of separate bomb threats made in Batesville and Como have resulted in no finding of a bomb.

A bomb threat called in to Como Elementary School Monday morning emptied classrooms a few minutes after 8 a.m., said Panola Chief Deputy Otis Griffin. Classes resumed about 9:50, he said.

A bomb threat was made against the Serta mattress plant in Batesville Friday morning, confirmed Batesville Police Major Don Province.

"The caller actually made the call to Tri-Lakes, first to their west campus and then to their main campus," Province said.

"They likely did that thinking that we would be able to track them down," the police major said.

Police officers searched the facility and found no sign of a bomb, the police major said. The plant is located in the city’s industrial park.

No arrest was made following the threat.

Griffin said a bomb-sniffing dog from DeSoto County was brought to the Como school to conduct a search.

Griffin said the sheriff’s department is still investigating the school bomb threat.

Funeral service set for child killed Fri.
By Billy Davis

Funeral services will be Thursday in Sardis for a 2-year-old who died last week in an accident at home.

LaKierra Treniece Lantern, who would have turned 3 this month, died at a residence on Cold Springs Road Friday afternoon, September, 29, said Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge.

Lantern is the daughter of Roy C. Young Jr. of Sardis and LaShaunta Lantern of Sardis.

The child died of trauma to the head, Gulledge said, citing the cause of the death. The "manner of death," meaning what caused the fatal injury, is still under investigation by the Panola County Sheriff’s Department, she said.

An autopsy was performed Saturday, the coroner said.

"I can say that the little girl was not run over by an automobile," Gulledge said, referring to an erroneous rumor.

Cold Springs Road is located in the Sardis Lower Lake area.

The sheriff’s department did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment about the investigation.

A funeral service for the child will be at 1 p.m. at St. Peter M.B. Church with burial in St. Peter Cemetery.

Cooley’s Mortuary is in charge of arrangements.

Road closed at Enid Dam for rip rap work
Bickerstaff Brothers Construction has closed the access road from the overlook to the toe road (the road at the foot of the levee) ramp on Monday, October 2.

The road closing at Enid Lake is due to the rip rap overlay operations being performed on the face of the dam.

Those wishing to travel to the south side of the reservoir should take Highway 51 and watch for signs.

Visitors accessing the east side of the Outlet Channel and the Persimmon Hill Recreation Area should use Highway 51 south until further notice according to the U.S. Corps of Engineers.


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