After months of having its fate change on a weekly basis and after years of being in certificate-of-need limbo, a 3-year-old hospital in Jackson, Miss., closed its doors indefinitely on Dec. 31, 1999, to comply with a local court order.
But the hospital owners vow their battle is not over yet.
"People don't want it closed down; that's the irony," said Joe Mullany, vice president of the Mississippi division of Health Management Associates, the hospital's owner. "You look nationally at all these places that have to shut down, and here in Jackson, you have a hospital that's vibrant, financially viable. The operators want to keep it open, and the system is shutting it down."
The closure of 64-bed Central Mississippi Medical Center North followed last-ditch attempts by the state's governor and the hospital's owner to appeal the ruling and keep its doors open into the new year.
The closure of Central Mississippi Medical Center North is the first documented example of a functioning hospital's being forced to close because competitors challenged its CON.
In this case, the two principal rivals were 631-bed Mississippi Baptist Health Systems and 571-bed St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital. They challenged the CON application filed by the hospital's previous owner, Methodist Healthcare, back in 1992, and a second CON application filed last summer by the hospital's current owner, for-profit HMA (Nov. 8, 1999, p. 2).
After the state's Department of Health approved the original CON application in 1993 and the local court affirmed it, the state Supreme Court overturned the decision in October 1998. By this time the hospital had been up and running for two years.
A second application made by HMA was subsequently denied by Mississippi State Health Officer F.E. "Ed" Thompson, M.D., this past November.
Within weeks of the closure date, Gov. Kirk Fordice issued an executive order to keep the hospital open until the appeals issues could be resolved. But the day before the scheduled closing, Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Patricia Wise ruled the governor's action had "no effect" on her previous closure order, and the hospital was forced to close the next day at 5 p.m.
Mullany said HMA will continue its appeal and lawsuit against the Mississippi State Health Department, both filed in Hinds County Chancery Court.
Larry Jones, a lawyer representing the hospital, said its owners are also likely to pursue state legislative remedies.
But for now, the hospital property is being used only for a physician office building.
The day before the closure, 20 patients were in the hospital. All were discharged Dec. 31, 1999, except for five patients who were transferred to either the main campus or nearby River Oaks Hospital, another HMA facility in Jackson.
Thompson said the north campus' license would be revoked and the licensed capacity at CMMC's main campus would be increased by 64 beds, which had been transferred to the north campus when it was built.
"Other alternatives for the facility are fairly limited," Mullany said. "There is no clear-cut choice if this cannot be used as an acute-care hospital."