Hospital’s future dominates meeting

Published 9:51 pm Thursday, June 10, 2010

Staff Writer

The future of the Beaufort County Medical Center, whose finances have suffered during the recent economic downturn, dominated the meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday and led to a heated discussion between two of its Republican members.
Meanwhile, board Chairman Jerry Langley appealed to county residents to “stop the madness” and “let the process work.”
“At the end of the day, we’re going to do the best for the people of Beaufort County,” he said.
Commissioner Al Klemm, a Republican, began the discussion of the medical center, formerly Beaufort County Hospital, by asking for a meeting of the county commissioners with local medical officials to determine whether the hospital should merge with another center or could afford to continue to operate as an independent entity.
“We have heard from the executive committee of the medical staff and we have heard from Commissioner (Hood) Richardson,” Klemm said. “The question is, ‘Who is right?’”
His request was caught short by Richardson, also a Republican, who asked for a break in the meeting and the opportunity to caucus behind the scenes with Klemm. Richardson was appointed by the commissioners as their representative on the hospital board.
“The commissioners don’t need to be divisive on this issue,” Richardson said after returning from the break. “I have a problem with what Mr. Klemm is doing today.
“The whole issue of the hospital is bigger than any doctor at the hospital,” he said. “It’s bigger than any employee at the hospital. It’s critical to the people of Beaufort County.”
He continued to advocate a two-pronged process of cutting costs at the hospital while seeking proposals from health care providers who would like to take over its management.
Klemm countered, “It doesn’t seem that information is coming on how the hospital is going to be if it remains independent.”
Richardson responded, “I can tell you how you’re going. Under the present operation, you’re going bankrupt.”
Richardson also said the hospital needs to start an aggressive marketing campaign targeted at residents of Beaufort County to increase the number of patients at the hospital.
“The hospital is giving very good care,” he said. “But the management at the hospital doesn’t want to be aggressive with these things.”
In related business, the commissioners delayed until June 22 the appointment of a new member to the medical center’s board of commissioners.
That new member could represent the swing vote on a board that is, according to its chairman, Edwin M. “Sandy” Hardy, almost evenly divided over the question of whether the local hospital should merge with a larger health care provider or continue on an independent path.
The hospital board at its meeting last week recommended the appointment of either Thomas Ruffolo or Deborah Ainsworth to its board. The county commissioners could accept one of these recommendations or make their own appointment.
In other business, the board:
— Received recommended budgets from the county’s water district enterprise, drug seizure and E-911 funds. The water district enterprise fund includes recommended minimum rate increases of 19.25 percent for Districts I and VII. It also includes authorization for the implementation of credit card payment by telephone for the county’s water customers.
— Received wording of a resolution, adopted last month by the commissioners, from Richardson that supports recent action by Arizona relating to illegal immigrants and urges North Carolina lawmakers to adopt a similar law.
— Received a certificate of appreciation from local veterans groups thanking the commissioners for their support of the recent visit to Washington by a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
— Unanimously approved a request from the BMB Shelter Home for $5,532 in emergency funds, contingent upon the approval of emergency funds from six other counties served by the home. The request represents Beaufort County’s proportional share of the funding request.
— Unanimously voted to seek a proposal from Schneider Electric of Morrisville to conduct an energy audit of county buildings.
— Unanimously approved an ordinance asking the N.C. General Assembly to restore funds to the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.
— Unanimously approved final budget amendments to the 2009-2010 county budget that reflects changes in property tax collections and sales tax appropriations, among other changes.
— Unanimously approved ordinances establishing project funds in the amount of $75,000 for a Talent Enhancement Demonstration Grant to study moderate income housing options, $480,000 for a boat ramp at Crisp Landing and $6.5 million for construction of an Allied Health Building at Beaufort County Community College.
— Delayed an appointment to the Coastal Resources Commission Advisory board and made the following appointments: Sonya Toman, Christy Barndt, Harry Meredith, Roxanne Hollowell and Sandy Woolard to the dangerous dog board, and Bobby Parker as the Beaufort County tax collector.
— Unanimously approved a request from Smyrna Original Free Will Baptist Church to seek a fireworks permit for July 4.
— Voted 6-1 to approve $7,248.35 in travel requests with Richardson casting the sole dissenting vote.