Hospital contract nearing completion

Published 7:31 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lawyers working on an agreement that will determine the fate of Washington’s hospital hope to have a contract ready for public review within two weeks and hope for a final vote on that contract no later than Sept. 1.

“We’re working through the details of the hospital transfer document,” said Raleigh lawyer Robert L. Wilson in an interview Wednesday night.

Wilson represents Beaufort County in the negotiations among the county, Beaufort Regional Health Systems and Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina over a lease-purchase offer by UHS for the Washington health care system.

“We still don’t have final agreement on all the terms,” Wilson said. “We’re doing everything in our power to get this finished.”

Wilson’s comments came after he met with the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night that lasted about 90 minutes.

Wilson said that while Sept. 1 is still the target date for completing the deal with UHS, he also said that if the talks “hit a snag, it may be later.”

“There are issues that need to be addressed,” he said. “And we need to get it right.”

Once the county, BRHS and UHS settle on the terms of the contract, state statute requires that the contract be available to the public for at least 10 days before the county commissioners and BRHS Board of Commissioners vote on its approval, he said.

Although state statutes do not mandate a vote by UHS officials on the contract, its governing board could also be called on to approve the deal.

Sept. 1 is the latest in a series of target dates for completion of the deal announced by local officials.

In January, following Community Health Systems’ withdrawal of its offer, the BRHS board voted to accept a lease-purchase offer from UHS and hoped to reach an agreement within 45 days.

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.

That letter of intent also reduced 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.”

The letter also stipulated 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.”

In early May, local officials announced that an agreement could be reached by mid-June. But in June, those same officials said they hoped to complete the deal sometime before the middle of September.

The ultimate decision on the fate of BRHS lies with the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.