Baptist Medical Center is seen in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, January 25, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to name Mississippi Baptist Medical Center as the home of the state’s next burn center.

The move came less than a week after the House Appropriations Committee approved awarding the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which has publicly announced it is establishing a burn center, $4 million for the same purpose.

Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, presented a strike-all amendment to the UMMC bill on the House floor. The amendment names Baptist Medical Center as the state’s burn center and awards federal COVID-19 funds “not otherwise appropriated” to the Mississippi Department of Health, which would flow through to Baptist.

Oliver said the funds would go to the Health Department to ensure they go only towards costs specifically associated with the burn center.

Several lawmakers were confused about UMMC’s current status with burn care, asking whether UMMC has “closed its burn center.” Mississippi Today previously reported that while UMMC officials publicly said they were treating pediatric burns, an internal email from a member of the newly established Burn Committee revealed otherwise.

“They (UMMC) don’t have a burn center. They’ve been treating burn patients,” said Oliver. “We’ve been sending severe burn patients out of state.”

Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, asked about the time frame for the establishment of the center.

Oliver said he did not know, but assumed Baptist would want “to move forward with it as quickly as they can.”

Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, said she was confused about the sudden change in plans and felt like she still had unanswered questions.

“I was a little concerned that the chairman didn’t have the information about how much it was going to cost because I imagine it’s probably going to be three, maybe four times, what UMMC is asking for,” said Summers. “My last concern is knowing that Baptist is a private hospital, how does that affect a patient’s access to care should they need to go to a burn center?”

A fellow Democrat had a different view, however.

Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, asked about Dr. Derek Culnan, the former medical director at the now-closed Merit Health Central burn center who is currently treating burn patients at Baptist.

Hines told Mississippi Today his mother worked at the former Greenville burn center for 20 years. That center closed in 2005, at which time UMMC’s leadership was not interested in operating a burn center without continuous state funding.

Hines, who voted for the bill naming Baptist as the state’s burn center, said he was also involved with the establishment of the JMS Burn and Reconstruction Center in Jackson.

Merit Health Central, citing the pandemic and recruitment challenges, announced it would be closing that center last year, leaving a void in burn care.

“I just thought he (Culnan) was best qualified and is already doing the work,” Hines said of his vote for the new version of the bill. ” … But when you got a person that’s doing what’s best for the people, let them continue to do what’s best.”

Any hospital operating a burn center must get designation from the state Health Department to receive additional state funding.

UMMC has submitted its application for such designation. Heath Department spokesperson Liz Sharlot said the application is under review.

As of Tuesday, Baptist had not submitted its application, according to the hospital’s spokesperson.

Officials with Baptist and UMMC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

The bill now goes to the Senate where it will likely be assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.