- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Six of the 19 rural, county-owned hospitals in Mississippi were in poor financial condition in the budget year that ended in June 2016, state Auditor Stacey Pickering said in a report Wednesday.

The report says three of those listed in poor condition are in the Delta: Greenwood Leflore and Tallahatchie General hospitals, and North Sunflower Medical Center.

Two are in the northeastern part of the state: Tippah County Hospital and Magnolia Regional Health Center in Alcorn County. One, Franklin County Memorial Hospital, is in the southwest.

The report says two of the 19 rural, public hospitals were in excellent financial condition. They are Jasper General and Neshoba County General.

Three were in good financial condition, and eight were in fair condition.

“Our federal delegation - our congressmen, our senators - as well as our state Legislature, all need to know where our high-risk areas are when it comes to health care in the rural community,” Pickering told reporters.

Since 2010, five rural public hospitals in Mississippi have closed.

Communities can be hit hard by a hospital closing, with loss of emergency services and primary care, Pickering said. The lack of a hospital can make job creation more difficult because executives want to develop companies where their employees have access to health care. A closing also wipes out hospital jobs and could force physicians or other health providers to move away, hurting the local tax base.

Mississippi has 113 hospitals, private and public. Pickering said his office used federal guidelines to define which of the county-owned hospitals are considered rural, and the 19 in the report are not leased or managed by any other entity.

The list of 19 includes OCH Regional Medical Center in Oktibbeha County. In a November election, local residents rejected a proposal to sell the 96-bed hospital. The auditor’s report lists the hospital in fair financial condition.

For each of the 19 hospitals, the auditor’s office evaluated profitability, the number of days of cash on hand, debt financing and the age of the facilities. Pickering said that since 2015, hospitals that participate in the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System have had to list their pension obligations as part of their financial picture.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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