Board updated on BRHS

Published 1:35 am Friday, June 17, 2011

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners late Wednesday afternoon heard an update on the proposed lease and purchase of Beaufort Regional Health System by Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.
Following an hour-long, closed-door session with their lawyers, county leaders had the same message as the health system’s governing board: negotiations over the future of Washington’s hospital and its affiliated medical practices are taking longer than desired.
The pending agreement with UHS for the lease and subsequent purchase of BRHS won’t be completed until September, County Manager Paul Spruill said in a prepared statement read at the end of the meeting.
In a statement that matched nearly word for word a statement read by Alice Mills Sadler, chairwoman of the BRHS Board of Commissioners earlier in the day, Spruill said, “The governing board for the hospital and the elected Beaufort County Commissioners want to assure Beaufort County citizens that all parties are working diligently to complete the requirements of the transaction and regret that aspects of the transaction must, of necessity, take time. The health industry is among our country’s most highly regulated areas and a transaction of this type is very complex.”
Hospital and county officials had previously hoped an agreement could be reached with UHS over the future of the local health-care system this month.
In March, UHS lowered its offer for the 30-year lease-purchase agreement from $30 million to $25 million in an amended Letter of Intent presented to members of the BRHS board.
In early May, hospital officials announced that an agreement could be reached by mid-June.
Despite the delay, there are no stumbling blocks or changes anticipated that would prevent the county, the health-care system or UHS from completing the deal, Spruill said in an interview before Wednesday afternoon’s commissioners meeting.
“I don’t anticipate any change in the terms of the transaction as they are understood today,” he said then.
Said Spruill: “All three parties are committed to completing the transaction”
In a statement released Thursday, a spokesman for UHS echoed Spruill’s remarks.
“University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina is working diligently with Beaufort Regional Health System and Beaufort County to complete the lease of Beaufort County Medical Center and the Beaufort Regional Health System physician practices,” said Beth Anne Atkins, public-relations and social-media specialist for the Greenville-based system. “All parties are committed to the best interest of health care in Beaufort County, and we expect the transaction will be completed in September 2011.”
In January, the BRHS board voted to accept the lease-purchase offer from UHS, but the ultimate decision to accept or reject the offer lies with the county commissioners.
The amended letter of intent presented by UHS in March also reduces the $10 million that UHS initially offered for the purchase of the BRHS property at the end of 30 years by “the amount of any Excluded Liabilities paid by UHS on BRHS or its affiliates behalf.”
There are 10 such liabilities listed in the letter. They include liabilities associated with taxes, contracts not assumed by UHS, environmental hazards associated with underground storage tanks and asbestos exposure, issues related to employee grievances or terminations and any liability associated with Medicare, Medicaid or other third-party payor programs as a result of billing errors, fraud or violation of any health-care statutes, among others.
The letter also stipulates that UHS will reserve the right “to require a portion of the prepaid lease payment to be placed in an escrow account for a reasonable period to be used by BRHS or its affiliates to pay any Excluded Liability.”
Commissioner Stan Deatherage was absent from the meeting.