Commissioners prepare to work out details of UHS offer|Locals express support forBRHS decision

Published 8:30 pm Sunday, January 23, 2011

Contributing Writer

Beaufort County leaders say they are ready to work out the details of an offer by Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina and make a decision soon on the future of health care in the community.
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday in the Auditorium of Building 8 on the Beaufort County Community College campus to discuss last week’s recommendation by the Beaufort Regional Health System Board of Commissioners of the UHS offer, according to an announcement of the meeting issued Friday afternoon.
A vote on the offer could come at that meeting, county leaders have said, but some commissioners have questions that they hope to have answered before they vote.
Board Chairman Jerry Langley said Wednesday’s meeting will be the first time the commissioners have met “face-to-face” with UHS representatives.
“Each commissioner has questions that they would like to have answered. I imagine there will be some Q-and-A,” he said. But, he characterized the general terms of the UHS proposal as “acceptable to me” and “something that I could live with.”
Other county leaders also said that they have questions about the details of the lease.
“There are still a few details of the offer to work out,” said Commissioner Jay McRoy. “But probably very quickly we could come to a vote. I don’t anticipate dragging this out very long.”
Those details include the future of the Certificate of Need that places the medical center’s beds in Beaufort County, the issue of local representation on the UHS governing board and issues related to the purchase of health care center property at the expiration of the lease, the commissioners said in separate interviews Thursday and Friday.
The BRHS voted 7-2 on Tuesday to recommend to the county commissioners a 30-year lease of the local health system by UHS for $30 million with the option to buy the property for an additional $10 million at the end of that lease. That vote came after UHS raised its initial offer from $18 million.
That recommendation followed an earlier recommendation by the BRHS board in favor of an offer by Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tenn., for a 30-year lease for $30 million. Citing objections raised by local residents and pending litigation, CHS withdrew its offer a week later.
Ultimately, the county commissioners will decide whether to accept, amend or reject the recommendation by the BRHS board.
Commissioner Robert Cayton said that while the citizens of Beaufort County would like a quick resolution to the issue, “they also want to be assured that we have done our job thoroughly.”
Commissioner Ed Booth said he is pleased both by the strong vote of support by the BRHS board in favor of the UHS offer and by the decision by UHS to increase the amount of its offer.
“UHS finally came to the reality that they’ve got to be competitive,” he said. “I feel very comfortable with what we have now.”
Commissioner Al Klemm said that once the board has the opportunity to study the offer and perform its “due diligence,” he is prepared to vote on the lease promptly.
“I’d like to see it over with as soon as possible,” he said. “We owe it to the citizens of Beaufort County and we owe it to the employees of the hospital.”
Commissioner Hood Richardson, however, sees an “uphill battle” in discussions with UHS before the recommendation would get his approval. “But,” he said, “if they can get close to the CHS offer, I wouldn’t pick at nits.”
Richardson is also a member of the BRHS board and cast one of the two votes opposing the recommendation for UHS. BRHS board member Howard Cadmus also voted against the recommendation.
Commissioner Stan Deatherage declined an e-mail request to answer questions on the issue unless the Daily News guaranteed that his remarks would be used in their entirety.
Meanwhile, some members of the medical community, local officials and some of those who have followed the local debate over health care said they were pleased by the vote by the BRHS board to recommend the UHS offer.
“I am guardedly optimistic,” said Washington resident Derik Davis. “I am confident the county commissioners will see that the relationship with UHS is the way to go.”
A member of the Concerned Citizens of Beaufort County, Davis served as master of ceremonies at a rally that drew dozens of people opposed to the CHS offer and in favor of an affiliation with UHS.
The Rev. David Moore, a minister at Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church who signed and helped circulate a petition endorsing UHS, also hoped the county commissioners would support the BRHS board recommendation and praised the BRHS board decision.
“I think the average citizen in Beaufort County will be delighted with the decision,” he said.
Washington Park Mayor Tom Richter said most of his constituents also see the BRHS board vote recommending UHS as “good news” and hoped for a strong vote of support from the county commissioners.
Earlier this month, the Washington Park Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting the proposed selection of UHS by the BRHS board.
Two members of the BRHS medical staff – whose members earlier voted unanimously to support an affiliation with UHS – also hoped for a quick decision by the county commissioners.
“I hope the county commissioners will take the recommendation of the hospital board and we can move forward with UHS,” said Washington doctor Fredrick Teixeira. “We need a partner quickly.”
Teixeira, who has been with Pamlico Internal Medicine in Washington for almost 13 years, announced he would sever his relationship with BRHS after the health-care board voted to accept the CHS offer. Teixeira rescinded his resignation after CHS withdrew.
Another member of the medical community praised the BRHS board’s decision and hoped for a quick approval of the UHS offer.
“I feel this is a step in the right direction,” said Thomas Ruffalo, a gastroenterologist with Coastal GI of Washington. “Assuming the commissioners follow in the same suit, I think the medical community will be overwhelmingly happy with the result.”
Beaufort County resident John Murphy, who initially supported the CHS offer, said that he had not had time to study the offer by UHS.