Poll indicates support for UHS

Published 4:28 pm Sunday, January 2, 2011

Daily News Staff

A poll of those identifying themselves as employees of Beaufort Regional Health System shows unanimous support among its participants for affiliation of BRHS with University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.
The poll, titled “Voice of Employees,” is in the form of a table. It gives participants the opportunity to sign their names and indicate a preference for the health system to remain independent or affiliate with one of BRHS’s four potential partners.
Some 113 individuals, or about 7 percent of the health systems employees, signed the poll.
All chose UHS.
“Many employees have become concerned that the Hospital Board/County Commissioners are not aware of our preferences,” a paragraph introducing the poll reads. “This is an opportunity for employees to voice their preference in the direction of our hospital — whether to remain independent or to merge with other facilities. Please respond below. Vote is invalid without signature.”
But, so far, the poll appears not to have reached most of its target audience.
Most of the members of the BRHS Board of Commissioners reached by the Daily News said they had not received it.
And those board members who would comment said providing quality health care for the community, not just the opinions of BRHS employees, was foremost in their minds as they determined the fate of health care in Beaufort County.
The poll was released Thursday to the Daily News by Edwin M. “Sandy” Hardy, a member of the BRHS board.
Hardy, a local lawyer and former board chairman, has been a vocal advocate of some type of affiliation by the local health system with UHS since merger talks began earlier this year.
“These are the people that care for your family members at the hospital,” he said of the people who took the poll.
Hardy also gave the Daily News a copy of a petition signed by 132 individuals identifying themselves as medical center employees “in favor of UHS merger.”
At least 12 of those signing the petition also participated in the poll.
The documents were provided to the Daily News four days before two pivotal meetings on the future of health care in Beaufort County.
The BRHS board is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Monday, when it is expected to hear a recommendation from a committee that has been negotiating over the health system’s future.
At that meeting, the BRHS board could vote to recommend an affiliation arrangement to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.
A negotiating committee — comprised of the BRHS board’s executive committee, Chairwoman Alice Mills Sadler, Vice Chairwoman Brenda Peacock and Secretary Hood Richardson and board member Suzanne Gray — recently entered a second round of negotiations with the health system’s potential partners.
The poll indicates that it originated with Rhonda Sillitoe, a physical therapy assistant at Beaufort County Medical Center.
It asked participants to hand deliver copies to her no later than 10 a.m. Nov. 18.
“The whole idea was to get the employees’ input,” she said in an interview with the Daily News on Thursday afternoon. “It was nonbiased from the get-go.”
Sillitoe said she agreed with those signing the poll that UHS would be the best partner for BRHS.
“It’s a local hospital for one thing. We could have a relationship with a local hospital and medical facilities,” she said. “It just makes good sense.”
But, she said, if hospital and county leaders choose another partner, “I don’t intend to go anywhere. I just want what’s best for the community and the fate of the hospital.”
An earlier vote by the BRHS medical staff also unanimously supported the UHS proposal.
Sillitoe said she started the poll because the origin of the petition was not known and, as a result, the document was to be destroyed.
The BRHS administration had no comment about the documents, Pam Shadle, BRHS director of marketing and public relations, told the Daily News.
Hardy said he hopes the petition and the poll with let the BRHS board and the county commissioners know that the medical center and health system workers think UHS is the best choice.
The Daily News was not able to confirm by press time for this edition that all of those signing the two documents are medical center or health system employees. Nor was it able to confirm the origin of the petition.
Since late October, the BRHS board has been considering offers presented by four potential suitors who responded to the health system’s Request for Proposals, or RFP: Brim Healthcare, Community Health Systems Inc., LHP Hospital Group and University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.
UHS initially presented a proposal for a 20-year lease; CHS, a 30-year lease plus two 10-year renewals; 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 and a 80/20 joint venture arrangement.
These proposals have been the subject of negotiations since early November.
And while many comments from the public have focused on the proposals presented by CHS and UHS, those familiar with the negotiations have privately said that a joint venture proposal by LHP Healthcare has received serious consideration by health system leaders.
In anticipation of the BRHS board meeting and possible vote on the proposals, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet for 7 p.m. Monday in the Superior Courtroom of the Beaufort County Courthouse. 
The county commissioners will ultimately decide the fate of the local health system, but that panel is not expected to vote Monday on any recommendations from the BRHS board, county leaders have said.
Sillitoe said she had not seen the results of the completed poll and did not know of its ultimate disposition, but she understood it was to be presented to members of the BRHS board and the county commissioners.
However, four members of the BRHS board, including Sadler and Richardson, said the poll had not been presented to the board.
“I was not aware of the petition, and that’s the only comment I have,” said Sadler.
Richardson said he had heard of the two documents and had asked for copies of them, but they had not been presented to the board.
“We don’t know where these people will be in five years or in 10 years,” he said. “Our goal is to provide health care for the people of Beaufort County. I’m looking after the interests of the citizens.”
Board members Howard Cadmus, Suzanne Gray and Allen Roberson also said they had not seen the poll or petition.
Cadmus and Roberson had no additional comment.
Gray said she was “open to listening to everybody about this. I think you have to value these people’s opinions. My mind is open, but you have to wonder how many of them have read the proposals.”
Board member Grace Bonner said she recalled seeing some comments from health system employees.
She said that it’s important for the board to consider these opinions as it mulls the future of health care.
“But the main thing for us to consider is who provides the best health services and who we would be able to work with the best,” she said.
Telephone calls to other BRHS board members were not returned by press time for this edition.