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Mississippi passed a $104M ‘lifeline’ program for hospitals. One CEO says it won’t help.

Winston Medical Center
Winston Medical Center in Louisville (Submitted photo)

As hospitals across Mississippi continue to face possible closure, state lawmakers recently passed legislation allocating $104 million in lifeline money to those struggling. However, one hospital CEO is claiming that the legislation, as passed, would do nothing to help his hospital.

In an email obtained by SuperTalk Mississippi News, Winston Medical Center CEO Paul Black informed the board of directors that the legislation – Senate Bill 2372 and House Bill 271 – would not allow the medical center in Louisville to receive any funds due to the hospital already paying for bills induced by COVID-19.

The money being offered by the state is through the federally regulated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was a $1.9 trillion economic package passed by Congress in 2021 for the sole purpose of pandemic-related expenses. According to Black, for struggling hospitals like WMC to benefit from the program, the money would need to come from the state’s general fund.

“Most, if not all, of WMC’s COVID-related expenses for the period of April 2021 to December 2022, have been claimed against funds previously received from other sources,” Black explained in the email. “Since the expenses have already been covered by other sources, it is doubtful the WMC will receive any of the funds allocated under [the legislation].”

When asked about the email, Black doubled down on the idea that the creation of the grant program through ARPA funds was either a political stunt to create positive headlines surrounding the state’s ongoing hospital crisis or lawmakers truly did not realize that hospitals who already paid off their COVID-related expenses would not be eligible for the program.

“It is obvious that the appropriations bill (HB 271) does not in any way match the spirit and purpose outline in the Mississippi Hospital Sustainability Grant Program as established by SB 2372,” Black said.

Following Black’s comments, SuperTalk Mississippi News reached out to State Health Officer Dr. Dan Edney, who confirmed that the money will be only in the form of a reimbursement for pandemic-related expenses.

“We’re having to go through federal compliance scoring to make sure the rules and regulations are compliant. We’re looking at the list of what we think will be the most commonly reimbursed items that are compliant with ARPA,” Edney said. “It’s not a check going out to hospitals. It is, because of ARPA, a reimbursement-based grant.”

Edney did add that he is hopeful the Mississippi State Department of Health can find a way to fit payroll expenses, which are not typically compensated by COVID relief money, into the criteria of reimbursable expenses but he’s not guaranteeing it.

In the meantime, hospitals are able to reach out to the MSDH until May 25 with public comment on what expenses they feel should be reimbursed through the state’s grant program, even though at the end of the day, all regulations will hinge on the federal government’s approval.

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