Petitioners: Reverse BRHS board’s decision|Local leaders exhort county commissionersto reject CHS offer

Published 5:15 pm Thursday, January 6, 2011

Contributing Writer

A 23-page petition — signed by those identifying themselves as residents of Beaufort County — urges the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to reject the recommendation of the Beaufort Regional Health System’s Board of Commissioners to affiliate with Community Health Systems.
The petition bears some 230 signatures, including those of various religious leaders and former city and county officials.
“We, the undersigned residents of Beaufort County, want to protect the future health of this county and ensure our communities receive the care they need,” the petition reads. “We are calling on Beaufort County Commissioners to protect Beaufort Regional Health System and its patients and workers by opposing a take over by the for-profit hospital chain Community Health Systems.”
The petition also reads: “We support partnering with the non-profit Eastern Carolina-based University Health Systems of Greenville, N.C. As our elected officials, we hope you hear the voice of your constituents.”
The petition was released Wednesday to the Washington Daily News by a loosely organized group of individuals. Those people said they were concerned that the BRHS board and the county commissioners had not heard from all segments of the community about the future of health care in Beaufort County.
They plan to present the petition to the county commissioners, but they said they did not know when that would occur.
Earlier this week, the BRHS board voted 5-4 to recommend to the county commissioners acceptance of a 30-year lease offer from CHS, a public, for-profit health-care provider based in Franklin, Tenn., for $30 million. CHS is one of the leading operators of general acute-care hospitals. The organization’s affiliates own, operate or lease 126 hospitals in 29 states. Those hospitals house 19,400 licensed beds.
A negotiating committee of the BRHS board was divided 2-2 over whether to accept the CHS offer or another offer for a lease/purchase agreement with UHS for $20 million.
Ultimately, the commissioners will decide whether to accept or reject the BRHS board’s recommendation.
The commissioners are scheduled to convene in a special called meeting at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the Multi-purpose Room of Building 10 on the Beaufort County Community College campus to discuss the process for reviewing the proposal. The panel also is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday, also at BCCC, to begin that review.
The Daily News could not confirm by deadline for today’s edition that all those who signed the petition are Beaufort County residents.
Some of those who signed it agreed to talk about their reasons for doing so.
The Rev. David Moore, lead minister at Washington’s Metropolitan AME Zion Church, said he signed the petition and encouraged his parishioners to do so, in part, because some county commissioners and BRHS board members had expressed concerns about the lack of diversity among participants in the debate over the health system’s future.
“Some of the commissioners had concerns that they had yet to hear from the minority community,” Moore, a former Beaufort County commissioner, said in an interview. “I do hope that this petition does address those concerns.”
He said the BRHS board placed too much emphasis on the money offered by CHS and not enough emphasis on the health care of the community, particularly the “poorest of the poor.”
“Our health care is more important than anything else,” Moore said. “Our health care is more important than money.”
Former Washington Mayor Floyd Brothers said he signed the petition after attending a local meeting devoted to the health-care issue.
He said in an interview that the issue is “confusing.”
The Rev. Kevin A. Johnson, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, said he feared the BRHS board had not placed enough emphasis on “the relationship piece” of the puzzle and had placed too much emphasis on the money that was offered.
“That tangible relationship is just as important as a monetary cash value,” he said.
He said that an out-of-state, for-profit health-care provider would not have the same type of relationship that the Greenville-based UHS would have.
The Rev. William Lee Kinney, minister at Washington’s First Presbyterian Church, said he signed the petition “in support of the expressed sentiment of the local medical community.”
“It makes sense to be concerned about the quality of care, the consistency of care and the immediacy of care,” he said, adding that UHS is better positioned to provide that care than CHS.
He characterized the BRHS board vote as “a foolhardy enterprise that will not yield positive results.”
Kinney said his next step will be to “communicate directly with the commissioners” his opinion on the issue and marshal support from others with a similar opinion.