BCMC’s outlook remains cloudy

Published 8:31 pm Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Community Editor

Beaufort Regional Health System’s Board of Commissioners voted to revive its cost containment committee in the face of a possible affiliation with a large health-care provider.
The committee will recommend cost-cutting measures at BCMC, and will help draft a two-year business plan for the struggling medical center.
“We will continue to work aggressively to cut costs at the hospital,” said Hood Richardson, chairman of the committee, during the board of commissioner’s meeting Tuesday. “Things can be done.”
Edwin M. “Sandy” Hardy, chairman of the board, interjected, saying that cost-cutting measures had already been taken and that BCMC’s best option was to affiliate with a large health-care provider.
Speaking of their behalf, Richardson said that the Beaufort County Commissioners wanted to implement cost-cutting measures to “save” BCMC before leasing it to another provider.
“We’re (the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners) worried that you are not as concerned with cost-cutting,” Richardson said, addressing the board and BCMC’s administration. “I don’t think you’re being aggressive enough in setting goals.”
Outgoing board member Dr. H.A. “Sandy” Easley asked Richardson if the cost-cutting plan would hinder the board’s pursuit of a suitor for BCMC.
Richardson said the cost containment committee would proceed with its recommendations, adding that BCMC needs a backup plan in case the board doesn’t find an affiliate.
“What if there’s no one out there?” he said.
According to Easley, there’s no way to save the medical center by cutting more fat.
“Affiliation is the way to go,” he said.
Hardy added that BCMC has already done “quite a bit of cost-cutting.”
“No you haven’t,” Richardson replied.
“I strongly disagree,” Hardy said. “We’ve been doing cuts since 2003.”
“I’d like to put you somewhere with a lot more fat to be cut,” he added.
Richardson said Beaufort Regional Health System’s financial problems are tied to its medical practices, which are losing up to $4 million a year.
“You’re running your overhead into the ceiling,” Richardson said.
Hardy clarified that BCMC does not own the aforementioned practices, but pays its physicians as employees.
“The board says it can’t cut anything, but patient care continues to go down,” Richardson said. “We’re paying people for what they’re not doing.”
He said the medical center needs to get its patient volume up with better service.
“There’s an outcry of poor service, particularly in the emergency room,” Richardson said.
“What are you going to do about it?” said Dr. Tom Penders, BCMC’s chief of staff. “We need major renovations to the emergency department.”
Board member Alice Mill-Sadler said that even if BCMC continues to pursue an affiliate, cost-cutting measures should be taken.
“We need to look at how to keep the doors open within that time,” she said, adding that the affiliation process could take 12 to 18 months.
With that, Mills-Sadler made a motion to reactivate the cost containment committee, which was approved by a 6-2 vote.
In other news, Bill Bedsole, BCMC’s chief executive officer, said five health-care providers have responded to the medical center’s inquiries into affiliation.
Sentara Health Care, a non-profit health-care provider based in Norfolk, Va., declined interest, while Community Health Systems, Inc., based in Brentwood, Tenn., Health Management Associates, Inc., based in Naples, Fla., Universal Health Services, Inc., based in King of Prussia, Pa., and New Hanover Health Network, of Wilmington, all expressed some level of interest.
BCMC is waiting to hear back from 25 more health-care providers, including Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.
Any affiliation must receive final approval from the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.
BCMC is still looking for a new board member to replace outgoing board member Easley.
The medical center’s board provided a name to the county board for approval, but that appointee was nixed by the governing body.
“Why did the county commissioners ignore our appointee?” Easley asked Richardson.
Richardson, a county commissioner, said the board’s appointee was in favor of BCMC affiliating with a health-care provider, which goes against the community’s interests.
“The majority of the community wants to keep the hospital,” he said.
The county commissioners came back to the medical center’s board with an appointee of their own, who is also an employee of BCMC. The medical center’s board nixed the nominee, citing a conflict of interest.
The board then agreed to nominate Dr. Tom Ruffolo and Dr. Debbie Ainsworth for the county commissioners’ approval.
“We need someone to come up here that is in a neutral position,” said Mills-Sadler.
In his report to the board, Jack Piland, chairman of BCMC’s administrative/finance committee, said BCMC lost $197,000 for the month of April.
“April was not a great month,” he said.
In his administrator’s report, Bill Bedsole, BCMC’s chief executive officer, said the health community will miss Pamlico Urgent Care, which is closing its doors.
“There is a shortfall of primary care physicians already,” he said.
Bedsole dismissed any rumors that BCMC was buying the practice.