Commissioners to review proposals|Health-care decision could come by Feb. 1

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Contributing Writer

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners began Monday its review of the recommendation by the Beaufort Regional Health System Board of Commissioners to accept an offer made by Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tenn., to provide health-care services for the area.
The commissioners plan to meet next week to study the affiliation offers presented by CHS and Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina before voting on the BRHS board’s recommendation.
They hope to reach a decision on that recommendation by the end of the month, according to commissioners Chairman Jerry Langley.
“By the last day of this month, we will be putting this thing to rest,” Langley said during a meeting of the county commissioners Monday night at the Beaufort County Courthouse. “By the end of January, whatever is going to happen, needs to happen.”
In their meetings, the commissioners will not try to renegotiate the final offers presented to the BRHS board Dec. 10, but they will take the opportunity to ask questions about them in order to make an informed decision, County Manager Paul Spruill said in an interview after the meeting.
“The commissioners will meet with those people they feel they need to meet with in order to have their questions answered,” he said.
About 40 people attended Monday night’s meeting that was called in anticipation of a recommendation by the BRHS board.
BRHS board Chairwoman Alice Mills Sadler and Joe Kahn, the lawyer for the BRHS board, presented the commissioners with the recommendation from the BRHS board.
About an hour earlier, the BRHS board, in a split vote, agreed to accept a CHS offer to operate the local health system. Voting for CHS were Sadler, Hood Richardson, Howard Cadmus, Clifton Gray and Allen Roberson. Voting against CHS were Dr. Brenda Peacock, Edwin M. “Sandy” Hardy, Grace Bonner and Suzanne Gray.
The BRHS board’s vote came after it was told a four-member negotiating committee was deadlocked 2-2 over its recommendation, with Sadler and Richardson favoring the CHS offer and Suzanne Gray and Peacock favoring the UHS offer.
CHS presented an offer for a 30-year lease with the option to purchase the property as the end of the term for a lease payment of $30 million, according to information presented to the BRHS board and the county commissioners.
CHS committed to make at least $25 million in capital investments, including improvements to the hospital, information systems and $2 million in funding for physician recruitment.
Under the CHS proposal, at the end of the lease term, CHS will be reimbursed for any preapproved capital expenditures made by CHS within five years of the end of the lease.
Additionally, CHS will have the option to buy the leased assets for $10 million at the end of the lease, according to the CHS proposal.
Under the CHS offer, the net from the offer would be $11.28 million, according to information presented to the boards.
The UHS offer presented to the boards Monday included a 30-year lease/purchase agreement, with UHS owning the health system real estate at the end of the lease term for a payment of $24 million. The original offer from UHS included a 20-year lease/purchase agreement for a payment of $18.1 million.
UHS committed to make at least $21 million in capital investments in the first five years of the lease, including funds for information systems as well as other capital needs. UHS committed to beginning plans for emergency department, patient rooms and information systems conversion within the first six months of the lease.
Under the UHS offer, the net from the offer would be $1.837 million.
Richardson told his fellow county commissioners that in its meetings with representatives of the two suitors, the board should not try to renegotiate the terms of the proposals.
“I want to caution that we not get into a situation by second-guessing,” he said. “I would not want to see the process destroyed by the appearance that we are negotiating.”
He also encouraged the commissioners to move forward “as rapidly as we can.”
“I’ve worked on this for a year,” he said. “I’m ready to get it over.”
But Langley said he wanted the commissioners to take the time they need to review both proposals.
“Whatever we say, whatever we do, we’re going to be impacting people’s lives,” he said. “I want everybody to take their time.”
Langley also chided those who, he said, had tried to “manipulate the process” by advocating for one proposal over the other.
“It’s not fair to UHS and not fair to CHS,” he said.
The commissioners are scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Jan. 12 to study the offers from CHS and UHS before deciding whether to accept or reject the recommendation from the BRHS board.