Commissioners draw crowd, then leave

Published 5:43 pm Saturday, January 8, 2011

Contributing Writer

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners does not plan to hold a public hearing on the future of health care in the county, according to its chairman.
Commissioner Jerry Langley told a crowd of about 45 people who attended the commissioners meeting Wednesday that, for the most part, they had their say on the issue at two public hearings called by the Beaufort Regional Health System Board of Commissioners.
He also warned the crowd that the commissioners had set aside only 20 minutes for public comment Monday during their upcoming meeting at the county’s administrative offices.
“I am quite confident that I will see some of you signed up to speak at the meeting Monday,” he said. “Pick and choose who you want to speak before us.”
Langley’s admonition to the public came after a 90-minute closed-door session of the county board to discuss their next steps in the review of the BRHS board’s recent recommendation to lease the local health system to Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tenn.
William Mayo, the county’s lawyer, confirmed in an interview after the meeting that there is no provision in the North Carolina General Statutes for an additional public hearing.
Langley had called the meeting to order at 4:30 p.m. and told those in attendance, “What we say or do tonight will not amount to a hill of beans.”
County Manager told the crowd of about 120 who had initially gathered to attend the meeting that the first step in the commissioners’ process “will begin with the study of the recommended proposal for Community Health Systems to lease for 30 years the business entity and real estate currently occupied by Beaufort Regional Health Systems.”
That process will begin Wednesday, Jan. 12.
Spruill additionally said, “I anticipate that in subsequent meetings you will study two other alternative proposals to lease the real estate that is currently occupied by Beaufort Regional Health System.
“As I stated this past Monday night, it is my understanding that the county commissioners will seek answers to questions regarding the three submitted proposals from the individuals that the county commissioners deem necessary,” he said.
After Spruill’s statement, the commissioners voted unanimously to begin closed-door discussions with their lawyers leaving the crowd standing around the room as the commissioners’ chairs sat empty.
The commissioners were joined in the closed-door session by Robert L. Wilson Jr., a lawyer with Smith, Moore, Leatherwood of Raleigh, which has been retained by the county to help with the process, Joseph M. Kahn, the lawyer for the BRHS board and Mayo.
Spruill told those in the crowd they were welcome to stay, and every attempt was made to keep them comfortable as they waited.
As the commissioners stepped down from the dais and walked across the room toward the BCCC Foundation’s Board of Directors’ meeting room, some members of the crowd began to chant “UHS, UHS, UHS.”
Ultimately, the commissioners will decide whether to accept, amend or reject a recommendation by the BRHS board.
That board voted 5-4 to recommend to the county commissioners 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 nationwide. The organization’s affiliates own, operate or lease 126 hospitals in 29 states. Those hospitals house 19,400 licensed beds.
The BRHS board chose the CHS offer over a $24 million lease/purchase proposal from Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina and a joint-venture arrangement proposed by LHP Hospital Group Inc. of Plano, Texas.
The county commissioners will convene a second special called meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday, also in the Multi-purpose Room of Building 10 on the BCCC campus, to begin reviewing proposals and asking questions about them.
A portion of that meeting is scheduled to be held behind closed doors, Spruill has announced. 
The BRHS medical staff had unanimously endorsed the UHS offer, as had the majority of speakers at a public hearing on proposals for the future of health care in the county.