Hardy quits posts

Published 4:27 am Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Staff Writer

Saying the Beaufort Regional Health System’s governing body is “going in a direction that I may disagree with,” Edwin M. “Sandy” Hardy stepped down as its chairman Tuesday night.
“With the direction this board is going and I see coming in the very near future, it would be best to have new leadership,” he told the board at the start of its meeting.
Hardy also served as chairman of the Beaufort County Medical Center Board of Trustees, which oversees the operations of the hospital and its affiliated medical offices. He resigned from that post, too. He remains a member of both boards.
As chairman of the two boards, Hardy had advocated a plan to bring in an outside entity to oversee the medical center’s operations while BRHS seeks to reverse its financial troubles and possibly merge with an other health-care provider. Less than two hours after Hardy resigned, the BRHS Board of Commissioners reversed an earlier decision to bring in a outside management team and voted to retain Susan Shaw Gerard as acting chief executive officer until the hospital’s fate is decided.
The membership of the BRHS board has changed in recent weeks with the appointment of Dr. Brenda Peacock, a Washington gynecologist, to replace Dr. Sandy Easley, who resigned from the board after accepting a job in Wilmington.
While the BRHS board has agreed to follow a so-called “dual process” of cost-cutting measures and revenue enhancements in an effort to maintain the hospital’s independence while at the same time seeking a merger partner, the board has appeared evenly divided over which track should take precedence.
Easley was generally regarded as Hardy’s ally in advocating a BRHS merger, as soon as possible, with Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina over additional cost-cutting. Peacock is seen as favoring a more cautious approach to merging the hospital with another health-care system.
The BRHS board membership is expected to change again later this year with the expiration of Curtis Potter’s term in September. Beaufort County Commissioner Robert Cayton announced Monday night that Potter had asked not to be reappointed to another term because of issues involving the health of a family member.
After Hardy stepped down, the board then tapped Vice Chairwoman Alice Mills Sadler to serve as its interim chairwoman until a new chairman is elected in October.
During discussion later in the meeting, Hardy continued to advocate for the board to hire an interim head to oversee the hospital.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary to get an interim CEO in here as soon as possible,” Hardy said. “We need to determine, do we want to go on autopilot or do we need an interim CEO.”
Board member Hood Richardson, who also serves on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, disagreed with Hardy’s assessment.
“Interim CEOs are here to sit the hospital. You really don’t get anything when you hire an interim CEO.” he said. “You need to look at this from the standpoint of what you’re going to get for your money.”
The trustee board voted 5-4 to reverse the medical-center board’s decision. Mills Sadler, Peacock, Richardson and board members Clifton Gray III and Allen Roberson voted to reverse the earlier decision and retain Gerard. Hardy, Potter and board members Grace Bonner and Jack Piland voted to not reverse the earlier decision.
During a subsequent vote, by which time Hardy had left the meeting, the board voted unanimously to increase Gerard’s salary by 20 percent commensurate with her new duties.
“I was totally surprised,” Mills Sadler said in an interview of Hardy’s decision to step down as board chairman. “It’s not about egos. My job is to see that we proceed fairly.”