Views on BRHS voiced

Published 1:42 pm Thursday, September 2, 2010

Staff Writer

Beaufort County’s leaders said Tuesday they will keep the concerns of the public in mind as they consider the future of Beaufort Regional Health System.
“I think we will continue to listen to what the public has to say,” said Jerry Langley, chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, whose members ultimately will decide whether BRHS will merge with another health-care provider or remain independent. 
“We will make a very informed decision, and it will be in the best interest of the people of Beaufort County,” Langley said in an interview after a public hearing attended by the county commissioners and the BRHS Board of Commissioners.
The hearing, on a resolution adopted by the BRHS commissioners to “lease, sell, or otherwise convey” the system’s hospital operations to another health-care provider, drew a crowd of about 180 people.
Most of the 17 people who spoke at the hearing said that if the hospital cannot remain independent, county leaders should choose a nonprofit hospital, preferably Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, as its merger partner.
“I know how thankful I am to have such a jewel of a hospital in Beaufort County,” said Washington resident Carolyn Harding. But, she said, it is “doubtful” that the hospital can continue to operate as an independent.
Like Harding, many of the speakers had been or are currently patients at Beaufort County Medical Center or its affiliated medical practices, and they praised the care they had or are receiving there.
Washington resident Thomp Litchfield Jr. said the care he received at the hospital made him feel like he was “being treated by my mother.”
“Do I want it to remain independent? Yes. Do I think that’s a reality? No,” he said. “We’ve got to do something. But please don’t just look at the bottom line — at who’s going to pay you the most money. Do what’s best for the people of Beaufort County.”
Several Beaufort Regional Health System employees spoke, urging the two boards to move forward quickly with a merger — preferably with University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.
“The best decision for the future of Beaufort County Medical Center is to form an alliance with (UHS) as soon as possible,” said Mary Belcher, a nurse at the local hospital. She urged the two boards “to reject outright any bid to remain independent and also reject any for-profit bid.”
Other speakers echoed Belcher’s concerns and urged the two boards to consider proposals from only nonprofit systems.
Chocowinity resident and nurse Kathy Vasquez said she had worked at nonprofit hospitals and for-profit hospitals and that shareholders at for-profit hospitals “decide how the hospital will be run.”
“You will rue the day if you align with a for-profit facility,” she said.
While most speakers Tuesday said they favored merging BRHS with a larger hospital, others said it should be considered only as a last resort.
Derik Davis told the boards they should be doing more to attract more patients to the hospital and seek ways to better use the hospital’s new operating rooms.
“The bottom line is, we’ve got to have more people use our hospital,” he said.
Washington resident Buzz Cayton told the boards, “My experience in life is big is not better.”
In an interview after the hearing and in comments to the crowd at the close of the hearing, Alice Mills Sadler, chairman of the BRHS Board of Commissioners, said the board will consider carefully the comments made by the public as it continues its deliberations on the hospital’s future and conduct those discussions “with an open mind.”
“We hope that everybody does feel heard,” she said. “We have noted on our note pads and in our hearts your concerns.”
Tuesday’s public hearing was the first of what is expected to be two public hearings on the future of BRHS, including the local hospital.
If the BRHS board receives proposals to lease or purchase the health system, a second public hearing will be held no sooner than 30 days after Tuesday’s public hearing, BRHS spokesman Pam Shadle said. 
Representatives of four health-care providers that received copies of a 1 1/2-inch thick document, called a request for proposal, have visited BRHS and met with some of its staff, according to Susan Gerard, BRHS acting chief executive officer.
They include Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, Capella Healthcare of Franklin, Tenn., and LifePoint Hospitals Inc. and Community Health Systems Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn.
The four were among 14 potential partners to receive the request for proposal or RFP. The deadline for responses is Saturday.
The RFP asks for two proposals. The first asks prospective partners to respond to a BRHS request for a 20-year lease that would begin “on or about” Dec. 1, 2010. The second asks potential partners “to be creative. If you see an alternative way to accomplish our objectives in lieu of the preferred leasing structure, we invite you to propose your best ideas without restrictions.”
Meanwhile, late next week, the county is expected to complete the paperwork on a $4.8 million loan that will enable the county to buy some 19 pieces of property now owned by BRHS. The loan would be paid back over 15 years.
The sale will give BRHS the money it needs to pay the county $1.57 million it owes as a debt payment for the recent construction project at the hospital and provide BRHS with needed operating capital as county leaders consider its future.