BRHS board approves UHS agreement

Published 12:38 pm Thursday, August 25, 2011

Joseph Kahn (right), lawyer for the boards overseeing the local hospital and its affiliated medical practices, prepares to read five resolutions approving the management of the local system by University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina. Also pictured are Brenda Peacock (left), a local gynecologist and vice chairman of the boards, and Alice Mills Sadler, chairman of the boards. (WDN Photo/Betty Mitchell Gray)

The two boards that oversee operations of Washington’s hospital and its affiliated medical practices today approved a series of resolutions that will lead to the takeover of the local health system by Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.

In a series of votes its chairwoman called “exceptional,” the Beaufort Regional Health System Board of Commissioners and the Beaufort County Hospital Authority Board of Trustees voted 7-1 today to approve the agreement with UHS, expected to be effective Sept. 1.

The boards also voted 7-1 to ask the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, scheduled to vote on the agreement later today, to accept their recommendation and approve the transaction.

“This is not the end of it but it is certainly 99 percent of where we need to be in terms of health care for this community,” said board Chairwoman Alice Mills Sadler after the series of votes.

Hood Richardson, a member of the health-care boards and a Beaufort County commissioner, was the sole dissenter in each vote.

“This is an exceptional moment in the history of Beaufort Regional Health System and UHS,” Sadler said, adding, “This has been a long journey.”

The votes come at the end of 1 1/2 year-long debate that began in April 2010 when the BRHS board voted to hire HealthCare Appraisers Inc. of Delray Beach, Fla., to explore options, including an arrangement whereby county leaders would lease the local hospital and its affiliated medical practices to another health-care system.

After receiving five offers from four health-care systems, the BRHS board initially accepted a proposal from Community Health Systems. But after protests by local residents and a lawsuit filed seeking a delay of the vote to approve that deal by the county commissioners, CHS withdrew its offer. In January 2011, the BRHS board accepted the UHS proposal.

“The board has made to the best of their ability the best decision based on the information before it,” Salder said.

Richardson took issue with Sadler’s comments, saying that “all of the information that was needed … was not presented to this board.”

“This hospital has been lost because of the inability of this board and the county commissioners to do their duty,” he said.

Richardson also read a one-page statement following the first vote, which cited the hospital’s governing boards and the county commissioners for failing to properly oversee management of the hospital. The statement said that by their votes, the hospital’s governing boards “are giving away $50 million in real estate and business value.”

Although the vote last week by the UHS governing board to approve the transaction took only about a minute, the reading of the resolutions to the local boards by their lawyer, Joseph Kahn, lasted about an hour and 45 minutes.

While a standing-room-only crowd attended previous votes of the two boards, just a handful of people and representatives of news agencies witnessed today’s vote.

Other than statements by a few of the board members, the resolutions were approved with little discussion.

In addition to authorizing the boards’ officers to sign the transaction agreements for shifting management of the local health system to UHS, the resolutions also authorized the transfer of hospital benefit plans, a corporation that employs some of the local doctors and two joint ventures to UHS or its affiliated medical practices.

And UHS continues to have the option, at the end of the lease, to buy the hospital and clinic operations for $10 million less any excluded Board member Howard Cadmus was absent from the meeting. Board member Clifton Gray participated by telephone.