UHS picked to manage operations

Published 1:57 am Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Staff Writer

The Board of Trustees of Beaufort County Medical Center voted Tuesday to tap a team from University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina to manage the day-to-day operations of the medical center, despite not knowing how much it will cost to do so.
The UHS team will manage the hospital as it looks for another health-care provider for a possible merger.
Some board members said the action effectively guarantees the merger of the medical center, formerly Beaufort County Hospital, with another health-care provider.
Edwin M. “Sandy” Hardy, chairman of the hospital trustees and Beaufort Regional Health System’s Board of Commissioners, said in an interview after the meeting that he did not know how much it will cost the hospital to bring in the management team, saying instead that it will be “very reasonable.”
He said University Health Systems has promised to “bill” the hospital for its services after Beaufort Regional Health System officials complete the process of evaluating proposals from 10 potential suitors for a possible merger.
“This will have no effect on the immediate bottom line,” he said. “They will bill us instead of requiring immediate payment.”
Under further questioning, Hardy said he did not know how much that bill could be.
Hardy said the vote by the board to bring in outside management does not reflect a lack of confidence in Susan Shaw Gerard, who was tapped to oversee the day-to-day operation of the hospital after the resignation last week of Bill Bedsole, Beaufort Regional Health System’s chief executive officer, but is instead a vote to secure the “best management possible for the people of Beaufort County.”
The board voted 5-4 to bring in the Greenville-based University Health Systems management team over the strong objections of some of its members who said it would be a conflict of interest for UHS to manage the hospital while UHS oversees possible merger proposals concerning Beaufort County Medical Center from its competitors.
UHS is the sole nonprofit medical center among the list of 10 remaining potential partners for the local hospital. The for-profit systems among the local hospital’s suitors are located in Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.
“There is an inherent conflict of interest in UHS coming in and managing the hospital,” said board member Clifton Gray III.
In response, Hardy said he had been assured by the board’s legal counsel that a management contract could be worded to avoid any potential conflicts.
Voting for the proposal, in addition to Hardy, were Grace Bonner, Sandy Easley, Jack Piland and Curtis Potter. Voting against the proposal, in addition to Gray, were Hood Richardson, Allen Roberson and Alice Mills Sadler.
Richardson expressed concern that by contracting UHS to manage the hospital, the board is, in effect, forfeiting any hope of maintaining an independent hospital in Beaufort County.
“What this motion does, it abandons the possibility that this hospital will remain in the hands of the people of Beaufort County,” he said. “You can kiss your hospital good-bye if this motion passes.”
The vote to bring in the UHS management team followed an unsuccessful motion by Gray to continue with the succession plan that was put in place after Bedsole’s resignation until the window for bids from possible merger partners had closed. That motion failed, with Gray, Richardson, Roberson and Sadler voting in favor of Gray’s motion and Bonner, Easley, Hardy, Piland and Potter voting against it.
The vote to change management of the hospital came after the board voted 7-1 (Hardy did not vote) in favor of a resolution to seek proposals from other health-care entities to merge, purchase or otherwise affiliate with the local hospital, with Richardson casting the sole dissenting vote.
“The thing that I am interested in is moving forward,” said Piland.
“The longer we put this off, the worse this situation will become,” he said.
In discussion about the motion, Richardson, who is also a member of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, said he opposed the word “sell” being used in the resolution because the county commissioners are opposed to selling it.
The motion calls for the Beaufort Regional Health System Board of Commissioners to review the document, over the objection of Hardy, who recommended that only the three-member executive committee review it.
“Even though I am a member of the executive committee, I think it would be in the best interest of the public … if the entire board were involved in the review,” Sadler said. “The issue is: how transparent we want to be in our proceedings.”
A group of about 15 people, mostly doctors and other medical professionals associated with the hospital, attended the meeting in hopes of learning more about the request for proposals, but most of them left during a lengthy closed session called to discuss personnel matters.
All hospital trustees attended the meeting.