A view of the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Finally, the Legislature has come to a conclusion about the state’s next burn center — and they’ve decided not to make a decision at all. 

House Bill 1626, which details how much is appropriated to the Mississippi State Department of Health, passed both chambers on Thursday. The bill allocates $4 million toward the state’s next burn center and gives the state health department the responsibility of choosing the burn center’s home.

The move comes amid months of speculation about whether the state’s next accredited burn center would be housed at the University of Mississippi Medical Center or Baptist Medical Center. Both institutions are vying for public support to open their own.

The bill also includes an additional $1 million to the state’s burn care fund, which pays for uncompensated care for burn victims who receive care at Mississippi’s next burn center, as well as travel expenses to out-of-state burn facilities.

It’s the latest move in a series of approvals and reversals, months after the state’s last burn center shuttered. Merit Health Central in south Jackson closed the state’s only accredited burn center in October, citing challenges related to the pandemic and staffing. 

Earlier this legislative session, bills to reestablish a burn center in Mississippi died. In February, the House Appropriations Committee approved awarding the University of Mississippi Medical Center $4 million to create a burn center. 

Then, in a surprising reversal, the full House of Representatives voted to name Mississippi Baptist Medical Center — where the former medical director of the burn center at Merit Health Central practices — as the home of the state’s next burn center. 

However, the bill died in the Senate because it was not passed by a key deadline. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, said at the time that the issue could come up later in an appropriations bill. 

Now, at the end of the session, lawmakers are washing their hands of making a decision at all. 

Both Baptist Medical Center and UMMC have submitted applications for burn center designation to the state health department. 

Mississippi Today previously reported that even though UMMC officials publicly said they were recently treating pediatric burns, internal emails revealed otherwise. 

Spokespeople from the Mississippi Department of Health did not answer questions by press time.

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Devna Bose, a Neshoba County native, covers community health. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied print journalism and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Devna reported on education at Chalkbeat Newark and at the Post and Courier’s Education Lab, and on race and social justice at the Charlotte Observer. Her work has appeared in the Hechinger Report, the Star-Ledger and the Associated Press, and she has appeared on WNYC to discuss her reporting. Devna has been awarded for her coverage of K-12 education in the Carolinas.