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Rush gambles on favorable ruling

By Staff
Sept. 9, 2001
The Lauderdale County Courthouse was quiet this week, as the 10th District Circuit Court convened in Wayne County.
In Jackson, however, the final chapter of a conflict between Jeff Anderson Regional Medical Center and Rush Foundation Hospital began as attorneys for both sides presented oral arguments before the Mississippi State Supreme Court.
The dispute between two of Meridian's three major hospitals began several years ago, when Rush officials applied with the Mississippi Department of Health for a "certificate of need" to establish a new cardiac unit. The application was granted. At the time, Anderson operated the only cardiac unit in Meridian.
According to federal statute, CONs must be granted before major capital expenditures or construction of any health care facility and disagreement between competing providers has sparked a number of court cases in Mississippi over the last 10 years.
So it was in the Meridian case. Anderson officials objected to the granting of the CON, arguing that the new Rush unit would duplicate services already provided by Anderson. Rush officials claimed the Anderson unit had more patients than it could handle.
The appeals process continued until Anderson ultimately won a hearing before the Mississippi Supreme Court. Oral arguments were presented to the high court on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, armed with approval from the Mississippi Department of Health and Hinds County Chancery Court, as well as a favorable opinion from the attorney general's office, Rush officials had already proceeded with construction of their heart unit. It opened without fanfare in mid-July.
In doing this, Rush officials have gambled that they will prevail in the Supreme Court and have committed a lot of money opening the unit.
Here's the catch. Supreme Court justices really don't care how much money has been spent. They rule on points of law. In 1998, they reversed a Hinds County Chancery Court ruling in a dispute between several hospitals revoking the CON for a $26 million hospital that had already been built and was in operation in North Jackson.
While there are significant differences between the Meridian and Jackson cases, the Supreme Court has in the past taken a dim view of people who commit themselves financially prior to a ruling.
Writing the majority opinion in the 1998 Jackson case, Chief Justice Lenore Prather said: "It is our hope that (the) motivation in building the project prior to our decision was not to present this Court with a fait accompli which we would be unwilling to disturb."
Justice James Roberts Jr. wrote a strong dissenting opinion, but agreed with Prather on this point: "The decision to proceed prematurely … is one which should not be repeated. Any and all other organizations and/or entities so tempted will do so at their own peril and expense."
Rush officials will know within 270 days, the Supreme Court's deadline to issue a decision in the matter, whether their gamble has paid off.
Shannon reports
unusual tax sale
I had the pleasure last week of entering a room at the courthouse filled with people reading The Meridian Star. These people were not merely browsing, not scanning the headlines or looking for box scores. I mean they were staring holes in it.
The reason for such synchronicity?
It was the first day of Lauderdale County's delinquent property tax sale. The 25 or so people in the third floor courtroom were following along as the auctioneer worked through a 16-page special section placed in the newspaper by Tax Collector Stanley Shannon. The section listed each parcel up for bids and the delinquent taxes owed.
How tax sales work: After the auction, the original owner has two years to pay the back taxes and reclaim his property. If he does, the successful bidder's money is refunded plus 18 percent interest each year.
While he does not have final figures yet, Shannon said this year's tax sale took four days and was one of the largest he can remember  with 20-25 serious bidders buying a large number of parcels and about 20 other bidders who bought a few parcels each.
Also unusual this year was the liveliness of the bidding process and the number of "overbids," successful bids that exceeded the amount of the delinquent tax owed. This year's overbids totaled about $48,000.
While Shannon is cautious about discussing why this year's sale was so atypical, he did point out that in these lean economic times, 18 percent is a pretty respectable return on investment.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at