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Oxford on the Move: Bill Henning and BMH-NM leading the way

When the new Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi facility opens in Oxford in late 2017, healthcare in the region will take a big leap forward.

BMH-NM administrator and CEO Bill Henning says it’s about building the right facility at the right time – and that meant looking 20 years ahead since Oxford and Ole Miss are on a fast growth trajectory and because more patients from the surrounding area are meeting health needs here.

“A lot of time and effort was spent (in planning stages) to try and think 20 years from now,” Henning says. “We have had a team of architects and contractors and hospital team members looking at that from the start.

“We asked questions like, how can we make it easier and more convenient for patients and families, and how can we make it more efficient for our needs? We also asked how has health care changed since our current facility was built and where is it going in the future?”

The new Baptist hospital in Oxford will be five stories tall, featuring larger patient rooms, expanded emergency services and 217 beds in total. With 602,831 square feet, the new Baptist will have more comprehensive medical and surgical services that expand outpatient services and ease while making the hospital even more attractive for regional referrals.

For Henning, the assignment to help a hospital of this level to the community is an once-in-a-lifetime professional assignment. Since the University of Georgia graduate (he has a bachelor’s and MBA from UGA) arrived in Oxford in 2013, it has been non-stop planning for this facility while managing the current facility.

“The site had been picked out when I took the job,” Henning says. “But that’s about it. We had to first clear the site and level it out due to these North Mississippi hills and gulleys.

“Then came the roadwork and the extension to Belk and Old Taylor Road. The actual facility construction began in 2015 and now we are counting down the months to opening in November 2017.”

Building such a large, built-to-last facility is something most hospital CEOs never get to tackle, but it was part of what attracted him here in the first place. Henning, who had served as CEO of a medical center in the Dallas area and as a regional vice president for Quorum Health Resources, said it was clear something special was occurring in this area.

“I like to tell people in Oxford that you really don’t know how lucky we are with the medical staff and facility we have here,” Henning says. “I’ve been in this business for 30 years and have seen a lot of university towns with fewer than 50,000 residents and many of them have 25 bed critical access hospitals with staffs of 15 to 20 doctors. They don’t have the breadth of specialties that we have here.

“I feel blessed to be a part of it and it is exciting to see the future of our health care come together like this.”

Henning and Baptist have worked to make sure a lot of the $306 million construction project has made an impact in Oxford and Lafayette County and throughout the region. The concrete came from a local company and the majority of subcontractors used are from the region meaning “a lot of money spent is going into the local economy.”

“It’s just one way to continue to give back to the community,” Henning says.

With about 120 physicians, BMH-NM has “amazing capability to take care of patients” in a community this size, and Henning says the hospital has worked hard in recent years at improving service with the patient in mind.

That means greatly reducing wait times in the emergency room, communicating better with patients, and investing in more diversified oncology services so local residents can get all the treatment they need at home, and have a good experience in the process.

“It’s just amazing the capability we have to take care of patients in a town this size,” Henning says. “And it’s only getting better. That’s a tribute to the quality and leadership of this community.”

Bill Henning:

Profession: Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi Administrator and Chief Executive Officer

Worth Knowing: 80 percent of the patients at BMH-NM in Oxford come from an 11-county area, stretching from Pontotoc (east) to Grenada (south) up to Senatobia (north) and all the way to west of the Mississippi River.

Favorite thing about our community:  “Our quality of life here is so high. I have been in two other university towns before and I tell people in Oxford they don’t know how good they have it. This is a very strong community.”