For years, Mississippi has struggled to interest state hospitals in providing long-term burn care.

Now, two of the state’s largest hospitals in Jackson appear to be battling over which takes on that role — and gets the state money both expect.

According to the Mississippi Today report, the jockey began shortly after Jackson’s Merit Health Center announced it was closing the state’s only burn care center last fall.

One of Merit’s burn care specialists moved to Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, who then reportedly approached House Speaker Philip Gunn about the state providing start-up funds to fully outfit the proposed burn center in private non-profit hospital. Gunn drafted a bill this session that would do just that, with $12 million in one-time money to acquire specialized equipment and create additional critical care capacity.

Meanwhile, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which couldn’t be convinced to start a burn center nearly two decades ago, has announced it wants to do so now. Of course, he also expects this to happen with taxpayer support. Whether that’s good with one-time money, as Baptist proposes, or wants recurring operational funding is unclear, according to reports from Mississippi Today.

Like Baptist, UMMC says it already has the expertise in place to treat burn victims immediately and does so regularly. But he wants to take that care to the next level and reduce the number of patients, including those with severe burns, who have to travel to other states to receive adequate care.

The legislature must now determine which institution is best placed to carry out this mission and to do so over the long term.

It would seem more logical for the state government to support a state-owned entity. But it also assumes that UMMC can operate the proposed burn center with roughly the same amount of taxpayer support that Baptist is seeking. If there is a significant difference, the legislature should instead consider following Baptist’s proposal.

The Greenville Burn Center closed in 2005 because the hospital could not operate it profitably. The same with Merit Health’s decision to close its burn center in Jackson.

It’s encouraging that two more Mississippi hospitals think they can pull through. When burn victims have to travel out of state for treatment, it’s hard not only for them, but also for their families.

Whatever decision is made between Baptist and UMMC should be done in the best interests of those who suffer from these excruciatingly painful injuries and the long and difficult road to recovery that follows.

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