Booth, Evans tackle BRHS issues

Published 6:02 pm Friday, September 24, 2010

Staff Writer

Merging Beaufort Regional Health System with a larger health-care entity is inevitable, but any new alliance should bring maximum benefits to Beaufort County residents, according to two county commissioner candidates.
The two Democratic commissioner hopefuls, Jerry Evans and incumbent Ed Booth, both of Washington, made their cases on the future of Beaufort County Medical Center on Wednesday night during a candidates forum.
Held at a Washington restaurant, the event was sponsored by the Beaufort County Democratic Women.
“Here’s the way I see it: If Beaufort County tries to stay independent, unless something (drastic) happens, your taxes are going to go up,” Evans said.
“I’m going to assure you that Ed Booth would not vote — that we would have some local control over our hospital, and we would have it in writing,” Booth said.
Pinetown resident Sonya Shamseldin, the third Democrat in the race, wasn’t present for the forum, which was attended by just under 50 people.
Though Booth is tied to Evans by party affiliation, the incumbent exercised his competitive muscles by throwing a couple of jabs Evans’ way.
In his opening statement, Evans said he had spoken with a board member at Granville (County) Medical Center, visited Bertie (County) Memorial Hospital and met with the chief executive officer of University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.
“That’s kind of where I think we need to end up, with University Health Systems,” Evans stated, nodding to his preference for a BRHS merger partner.
In his opening statement, Booth chipped away at Evans’ remarks about his meetings with high-profile health-care executives.
“He said he talked to different CEOs, but I haven’t heard anyone yet say I’ve talked with you,” Booth said, indicating the crowd. “I have talked to the people in this county who would be affected by this hospital transition.”
Responding to the first question posed by moderator Tom Payne during the commissioner portion of the forum, Evans referred back to Booth’s broadside.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people — nurses, doctors, that’s really who I’ve been talking to,” Evans said. “But it comes down to the (chief financial officers) and the CEOs, where they’re going.”
In his time at the podium, Booth pledged that the commissioners would pressure any health-care conglomerate newly aligned with BRHS to retain local board control over the hospital, though he offered no specifics on how the county would achieve that goal.
Echoing a hypothetical conversation with leaders of a large health-care corporation, Booth essentially implied he would tell out-of-town executives to get lost if they didn’t stick to the locals’ terms for hospital governance.
“We have your money, and you’ve breached your contract,” Booth said. “And we’re going to stick with that. … I’m going to let them know that the people of Beaufort County deserve the best. Because you’re merging with us doesn’t mean you’re going to forget us.”
Evans identified the hospital’s financial condition and a potential merger as the No. 1 issue of the campaign.
“I would love to see this hospital stay independent,” he commented. “I would love to see us be like Granville County. But, the way health care is going and the position that this hospital has slipped into, I don’t know that we can do it, and that’s (a conclusion drawn from) talking to the (Beaufort) county manager (Paul Spruill).”
Officials with the Beaufort County Democratic Party have identified retaking a majority on the county board as one of their chief goals this year, and the hospital’s future has emerged as the top local issue ahead of the Nov. 2 election.
The Democrats lost their commissioner majority for the first time in 2002, and they have been unable to regain it, despite occasional intraparty strife among competing Republicans.
The two Republicans in the commissioners’ race are incumbents Al Klemm and Stan Deatherage, both Washington residents.
Also running is Bertie Arnhols, an unaffiliated candidate from Aurora.
For more coverage of the forum, see Sunday’s edition.