Merit Health Central could cut more services

Jackson, Miss.-based Merit Health Central has already discontinued a number of its services. It may be planning to end more still, according to local news station WAPT.

WAPT reported Nov. 7 that officials at both Merit Health and the Hinds County Board of Supervisors met behind closed doors late Monday to discuss such options. Officials did not provide specifics on which services might be shuttered. The hospital is in Hinds County, which is a low-income area with a poverty rate above 20 percent.

Merit Health Central, which has incurred about $16 million in uninsured costs this year, is owned by health giant Community Health Systems, which also owns eight other Merit Health hospitals in the state. The hospital shuttered its burn center, the only one in the state, in October and has moved neonatal intensive care and cardiovascular services to the suburbs.

When CHS acquired Health Management Associates in 2013, the Franklin, Tenn.-based group also acquired the Merit Health Central hospital's lease requirements. Such requirements, in addition to operating a full-service facility in a low-access area, also obligates the hospital to provide care for inmates at a local detention center, raising questions as to whether CHS and Merit Health Central are legally meeting such obligations.

Some detainees had been forced to seek medical treatment at some distance from the detention center in recent weeks, according to the WAPT report.

CHS did not respond to a request for comment on the latest possible plans to close more facilities. A spokesperson for Merit Health Central, who didn't respond to a Becker's Healthcare email, has previously said the hospital is in contact with Hinds County officials to discuss the hospital lease and other issues.

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