Doctors endorse UHS merger

Published 11:47 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Staff Writer

Saying they have already begun to feel the effects of tightening budgets in their patient care, members of the medical staff at Beaufort Regional Health System Tuesday unanimously endorsed a merger proposal presented by University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.
“My gut feeling is that Pitt is the right thing for us,” orthopedic surgeon Jeff Barwick told members of the BRHS Board of Commissioners. “They will nurture us because we are eastern North Carolina.
“You go with what’s right for the community,” said Barwick, a native of Greenville and one of the newest members of the local medical community.
Pediatrician Russel Cook, who joined the practice of Dave Tayloe and Frank Stallings some 30 years ago, agreed.
“They’re the obvious choice to partner, particularly in pediatrics,” he said.
Barwick and Cook were two of some 35 members of the BRHS medical staff who invited the BRHS Board of Commissioners to meet with them to talk about the five merger proposals that are now before the board.
Alice Mills Sadler, chairman of the BRHS board, told the medical staff that the board is working with a “a sense of urgency” to reach a decision regarding the hospital’s future.
“That’s our mantra right now,” she said.
Meanwhile, the public will have the chance Wednesday, Oct. 27, to give their opinions to the BRHS board at a public hearing set for 6 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of Building 10 on the Beaufort County Community College campus.
The medical staff also unanimously endorsed a resolution asking the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, who will ultimately decide the fate of the local health system, to pledge that they have not accepted and will not accept any political donations from any of those systems that have made offers or any of their affiliates.
“I am concerned about the fact that the vote is a legitimate vote,” said Thomas Penders, a psychiatrist and former hospital chief of staff.
Four prospective partners have presented five proposals for affiliation with BRHS.
Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, Community Health Systems Inc. of Franklin, Tenn., and LHP Hospital Group of Plano, Texas presented lease offers. LHP Hospital Group and Brim Healthcare of Brentwood, Tenn., presented alternative proposals that would either create some type of joint venture with BRHS or establish a management services arrangement.
University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina presented a proposal for a 20-year lease for a prepaid lease payment of $18.1 million; Community Health Systems, a 30-year lease plus two 10-year renewals for a prepaid lease payment of $30 million; Brim Healthcare, a three-year management services arrangement with one two-year renewal, and LHP Healthcare, separate proposals for a 30-year lease with two 10-year renewals at fair market value and a 80/20 joint venture arrangement.
James Manning, who works as a hospitalist at Beaufort Regional Medical Center, urged the board not to simply accept the highest bid but to consider how well a prospective suitor would work with the local community.
“You want to marry the girl and not the dress,” he said.
Fred Teixeira, a doctor with Pamlico Internal Medicine, said a hospital affiliated with a medical school would be in the best position to recruit primary care doctors to the community – something, he said, that is becoming increasingly difficult to do in recent years.
“In all the proposals they said that’s something we need,” he said. “Who’s going to be in the best position to recruit primary care physicians? It would take a medical school to do that.”
He said Beaufort County has a strong medical staff and that, with adequate financing, the local hospital would have little trouble attracting doctors and patients.
“It’s a facility problem. It’s a money problem,” he said. “If we can solve that, we’re going to be a place that people want to come to.”
Other doctors said the continued budget cuts implemented as part of cost-cutting measures have begun to make it increasingly difficult to provide proper care to the hospital’s patients.
“It’s a tight line in surgery,” said Urologist Michael Crawford, who serves as the hospital’s chief of surgery. “One day we’re going to be stuck up there and we’re not going to have something we need.
“Patient care has not been affected, but it’s a thin line right now,” he said.
Orthopedic surgeon George Miller agreed.
“We find ourselves in a compromising situation because the money is not there,” he said.
Manning agreed that within the last month, budget constraints have begun to have some effects on his practice.
“We’re staring to see cracks in the dam,” he said.
These cost-cutting measures have also begun to affect the morale of the hospital’s employees, the doctors said.
“The longer you drag this out, the morale is going to suffer,” said pulmonologist Kenny Nall.