Hospital administrator made the tough call

Published 5:46 am Tuesday, February 12, 2008

By Staff
Beaufort County Hospital has a niche in the health-care system. Bill Bedsole recognizes that. As the hospital’s chief executive officer, the task of making the tough decisions falls on him, and last week he made one.
After 10 years of operation, the hospital is going to close the Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit on its fourth floor. It wasn’t a decision Bedsole made lightly.
The fourth floor has become a luxury that few small hospitals can afford. It’s provided a secure area where patients could receive special mental-health treatment for behavioral problems. It was also running at a $1 million-a-year deficit. The state doesn’t mandate that BCH operate an inpatient unit, and Bedsole and the hospital board decided it was consuming manpower resources that could be used elsewhere.
The bad news is that decision means local patients must now seek help in Greenville, New Bern, Ahoskie or Goldsboro for serious inpatient care. The good news is that by closing the inpatient unit, BCH can open a psychiatric crisis and detoxification center that the Washington area has been lacking since 2005. The crisis center won’t offer the level of service that the inpatient unit did, but it will offer inpatient care for less serious conditions. That should open up mental-health services to a larger segment of Beaufort County residents and Bedsole believes that Beaufort County residents should be the prime focus of the hospital.
Bedsole understands that there are some things that the hospital has to do simply because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s the profitable thing to do. But as CEO, he’s responsible for making sure the hospital can continue to operate and serve the people of Beaufort County. He’s been able to do that, and without having to appear before the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners every year asking for county tax funds to balance the budget. That’s not true of some county hospitals, which need the infusion of tax dollars to keep the doors open.
So, the hospital is going to transfer the nurses that had been assigned to the inpatient unit to the new crisis center. For months, the hospital tried to hire new nurses so it could keep both units open, but in the end it found the nurses simply weren’t available. It became an issue of running the clinic or the inpatient unit, but not both.
The reality is insurance companies and federal and state bureaucrats decide what kind of health care system is available to local residents. Once upon a time, BCH was reimbursed the full value of its cost to care for those with serious mental conditions. Now, the hospital receives only a fraction of that cost. That means the hospital must allocate revenues from other areas to subsidize services.
For families with loved ones who need inpatient care, last week’s decision is a sad one. They must seek out other facilities beyond Beaufort County and hope there are beds available. The good news is BCH’s decision doesn’t mean inpatient care is gone for good. The fourth floor will be left as it is, and, if the nurses become available and funding is restored, it’s quite possible that the inpatient unit can be opened for business again. Until that time, BCH made the best decision it could make.