BRHS board recommends CHS|Commissionersmeet to discuss selection process

Published 4:40 pm Monday, January 3, 2011


The Beaufort Regional Health System Board of Commissioners on Monday voted to accept an affiliation offer from Community Health Systems Inc. of Franklin, Tenn.
Following lengthy discussions, the nine-member board voted 5-4 to accept the CHS offer to operate the local health system. Voting for CHS were Hood Richardson, Howard Cadmus, Clifton Gray, Allen Roberson and Alice Mills Sadler. Voting against CHS were Dr. Brenda Peacock, Edwin M. “Sandy” Hardy, Grace Bonner and Suzanne Gray.
The BRHS board’s vote came after its members were told the four-member negotiating committee was deadlocked 2-2 in its recommendation, with Sadler and Richardson favoring the CHS offer and Suzanne Gray and Peacock favoring the UHS offer.
During the discussion, CHS supporters focused on the size of that health system and the size of its offer. UHS supporters said the board shouldn’t focus on the bottom line but rather the quality of health care UHS would provide the community.
Sadler said she was disappointed by the size of both offers.
“Everything on the table is insufficient,” she said during the meeting. “But the UHS offer comes woefully short.”
Suzanne Gray agreed, saying, “If this hospital had been in a better financial situation, we might have seen better offers.”
The vote surprised many board members and some members of the medical community.
“I was surprised and disappointed,” said board member Grace Bonner.
In making its decision, the BRHS board rejected the recommendation of its medical staff, whose members unanimously endorsed an affiliation with Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.
UHS was the preferred partner by most of the speakers at two public hearings on the future of health care in Beaufort County held by the BRHS board, and it was the unanimous choice of those BRHS employees who participated in a recent poll.
“The best decision is not always the most-popular decision,” said Clifton Gray in announcing his support for CHS.
Sadler said she was concerned by the lack of diversity at the public hearings and, as a result, had talked to others in the community who had no preference.
“The doctors’ preference can’t preclude our duty to see that this hospital is taken care of,” she told the Daily News in an interview after the vote.
BRHS Chief of Staff Rachel McCarter, who serves as an ex-officio member of the board, said the board’s decision “is not going to go over well. There are a lot of physicians who are waiting to decide on their futures.”
She and others predicted the close vote by the BRHS board would lead to intense lobbying of the county commissioners by supporters of the UHS offer.
The vote by the BRHS board to is one step in determining the future of health care in Beaufort County.
The ultimate decision to accept or reject the offer lies with the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, which was prepared to meet Monday night immediately following the BRHS board vote. That panel was not expected to vote Monday on any recommendations from the BRHS board, county leaders have said.
Instead, that county commissioners could outline for the public the process they will use to consider the recommendation made by the BRHS board.
“The county commissioners will in no way consider making a decision regarding the issue on Monday night,” said County Manager Paul Spruill. “Their interest is only to be available for the BRHS board to make its report to the elected body as soon as possible once the recommendation occurs.”
The county commissioners were expected Monday to establish a timeline for their discussions on the proposal. 
CHS was one of four potential suitors who responded to the health system’s request for proposals. Other proposals under consideration came from Brim Healthcare of Brentwood, Tenn., LHP Hospital Group of Plano, Texas, and UHS.
Those proposals have been the subject of negotiations since early November.
The initial offer from CHS called for CHS to lease the land, building and equipment of Beaufort County Medical Center for 30 years for a prepaid lease amount of $30 million. The initial offer also called for two 10-year renewals at fair-market value.
The initial offer also called for CHS to purchase the “net working capital” of BCMC and its associate physician clinics, ancillary services and other assets required for the operation of BCMC.
The CHS initial offer promised $25 million in capital expenditures during the first five years of the lease and a $2 million physician recruitment commitment during the first five years of the lease.
The initial CHS offer also stipulates that at the end of the lease term BCMC will reimburse CHS for the net book value of any pre-approved capital expenditures made by CHS within five years of the lease termination.