Jackson County

Coast legislator proposes solutions for angry Jackson County patients

Terry Millette’s patients speak out

Brice Wiggins hears patients' lack of trust of Singing River Hospital.
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Brice Wiggins hears patients' lack of trust of Singing River Hospital.

State Sen. Brice Wiggins said he’ll try to convince the Mississippi Hospital Association to provide training for new members of community hospital boards and will consider trying to get the Legislature to make it easier to remove bad trustees from those boards.

“I grew up here,” said Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, whose father is a doctor in Pascagoula. “As a community hospital, we’re all invested in this. It’s about the people and who we are. We have to work together. Working together is how we’re going to preserve Singing River for the patients and physicians.”

Wiggins had a meeting at the Pascagoula Public Library on Monday to talk to patients of Dr. Terry Millette, the neurologist whose office was abruptly closed and contract was canceled earlier this year by the Singing River Health System. They were angry about the way Millette’s contract was terminated, the way his patients were notified about the termination, and the way the SRHS Board of Trustees has treated them since then. Some of Millette’s patients with multiple sclerosis, they said, went without a doctor for seven months because of SRHS.

Wiggins, after an outcry over SRHS’ failing pension system, in 2016 helped get changes to the state’s open meetings law that ended the community hospital boards’ exemption from that law. But the patients still aren’t satisfied with the way the board operates. They said supervisors are relatively powerless over the SRHS board because it takes a unanimous vote of the supervisors to remove a community hospital trustee.

“We want to be smart about what we’re doing,” said Wiggins. “Do we want every single time a trustee, the Board of Trustees, does something, do we want the supervisors going back and yanking their ability to do it?”

The trustees also can remove one of its members by a majority vote.

“We can get changes if that’s what the people do,” he said.

The patients said the board, which is relatively new, refused to meet with them as a group, citing the Hospital Insurance Portability and Accountability Act as the reason. Patients said they didn’t trust the board and wouldn’t meet without their attorneys present.

At least one said he could talk to the trustees outside the formal meeting.

“I can talk to them anytime I want,” said Cisco Augilar, “as long as I’m not complaining.”

There is no public comment period, such as the one the Board of Supervisors has, at the Board of Trustees meeting, he said.

Supervisor Troy Ross said at least two members of the Board of Trustees told him they were working toward having one.

Wiggins cited a South Carolina study that found hospital boards there lacked the know-how to operate a hospital system.

“The boards as a general rule, aren’t familiar, don’t have the training that needs to happen in these situations,” he said. “It’s consistent with what’s going on in Mississippi.

“We have a new board. They got hit with (Millette’s termination) right when they came in. I will talk to people at the Hospital Association, bring up this issue and say, I’d like you to look ... into how we can get these board members better training because it’s very specialized, very complicated issue ... dealing patients and their physicians and all that.”

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton