The Mississippi Appeals Court has ruled that Lowndes County supervisors did not violate the state constitution by leasing the county-owned hospital to Baptist Memorial Health Care System.
Wilbur Colom, a Columbus, Miss., attorney and member of a group wanting to nullify the 1993 deal, said he will ask the state Supreme Court to look at the case.
The county-owned hospital, now Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, is being leased to Baptist for 50 years.
Colom's group, Golden Triangle Regional Health Corp., was one of 11 firms that bid for the lease three years ago. Baptist got the lease after supervisors determined the Memphis, Tenn.-based hospital system had the best plan to manage the medical center.
In its ruling, the appeals court unanimously agreed that supervisors correctly followed state law.
GTR Health Corp. sued the county in 1993 to get the Baptist contract nullified. GTR wanted to force supervisors to re-evaluate what to do with the 328-bed hospital.
Lowndes County Circuit Judge Lee Howard dismissed the group's claims.
"I frankly would be surprised if (the high court) took it up," said attorney Jack Dunbar, who represented Baptist Memorial Health Care System. "The law is pretty clear that the act of the supervisors had a rational and reasonable basis."
Dunbar said Baptist's broad experience, its agreement to assume all the hospital's debts and its experience in providing quality healthcare made it the best bidder.
Colom's suit alleged the lease was an illegal donation of public property to Baptist because the financial benefits to the county are minimal.
Colom said the state constitution bars donating land owned by the state or counties to private corporations or individuals.
He said that because the former board of supervisors essentially donated the hospital to Baptist by not getting the best arrangement for the county, it had violated the constitution.
In rejecting GTR's arguments, the appeals court said "a more profitable arrangement" was not the supervisors' first priority.
State law required the supervisors "to give primary consideration to matters that bore little or no relation to the profit the county could extract from the lease," Appeals Judge Roger McMillin wrote for the court.
"The principal statutory charge to the board was that it ensure that the leased facility continue to operate on a nonprofit basis in a manner safeguarding community health interests," McMillin said.