Officials in north Mississippi are moving closer to selling a county-owned hospital, despite objections from the hospital board and others in the community.

Oktibbeha County supervisors voted 3-2 last week to seek proposals for the sale or 50-year lease of OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports that 40 physicians have signed a resolution opposing a change in ownership amid concerns about loss of local control.

In a published response, hospital leaders disputed several of the findings, saying the consultant erred in conclusions about the hospital’s revenue, funds available for capital investments and market share.

Supervisors’ president Orlando Trainer has long advocated that the county consider selling the hospital. He said the hospital needs a health care partner to meet the community’s future needs.

“We have grown as far as we can grow,” Trainer said.

The vote last week came over the unanimous objections of the OCH Regional Board of Trustees, which is appointed by the county supervisors. The Greater Starkville Development Partnership in December issued a letter opposing the sale.

“It’s been a community-oriented hospital for years,” said Richard Hilton, hospital chief executive officer, who joined the OCH Regional staff as chief financial officer in 1983.

OCH Regional is on more solid footing than many rural hospitals because Starkville has a growing economy, Hilton said. If the hospital is sold, almost certainly there would be a loss of some jobs, Hilton said. That cuts into the hospital’s $127 million economic impact. Discharging the bond issue early would only have a small impact on the tax bills for most homeowners, Hilton said.

Trainer is concerned the hospital will need county bonds to expand in the future. The commitment of the current bonds cuts into the county’s ability to consider other needs.

“Every rope has its limit,” Trainer said. “We’re at the end of our rope.”

The request for proposals is expected to be published Monday, Trainer said. Interested parties will have 60 days to submit proposals that supervisors will evaluate. Bids would be kept confidential during negotiations.

Trainer said plans could change if local residents call for a referendum on whether to sell the hospital.