UHS comes calling

Published 12:21 am Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 ushers in new management at two area hospitals

In separate decisions, two Beaufort County hospitals — Beaufort Regional Health System and Pungo District Hospital — signed agreements with University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina in 2011 becoming the ninth and 10th hospitals, respectively, under the UHS umbrella.

Those combined decisions come in as the No. 2 story of 2011 in the Washington Daily News’ coverage area.

The future of BRHS — including the Washington hospital and its affiliated doctor’s practices — was the subject of much heated debate throughout 2010 and much of 2009 as the BRHS governing boards and the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners debated the future of health care in the community.

UHS wasn’t the first choice of the BRHS governing boards to manage the Washington hospital.

In a split vote in late 2009, the BRHS boards chose Community Health Systems and referred the affiliation issue to the county commissioners. But after public uproar and the filing of a lawsuit seeking to block that deal, CHS withdrew its offer, leaving UHS as the sole suitor for Washington’s health system.

In a vote in early 2011, the BRHS governing boards accepted a 30-year lease/purchase agreement from UHS — an offer that was subsequently lowered to $25 million to lease the hospital and affiliated medical practices.

After several months of closed-door negotiations among UHS, the county commissioners and the BRHS governing boards, the local boards approved the deal in late August, with UHS taking over management of the local hospital Sept. 1.

At the time of the vote, area residents and members of the local medical community agreed that the question before the boards likely was one of the most important questions to be answered in the county’s history.

Most of the money paid by UHS to Beaufort County will be used to pay off loans and any other financial obligations related to the local health care system with about $7 million designated for an escrow account to cover any financial liabilities that arise after the lease is signed.

Harvey Case, the former head of Duplin General Hospital in Kenansville, was named president of the newly named Beaufort Hospital, succeeding Susan Gerard, who had served as chief executive officer for more than a year following the resignation in 2009 of Bill Bedsole.

About a month after taking over the Washington hospital, UHS announced that it had reached an agreement with Pungo District Hospital in Belhaven that would bring that health-care center under the UHS umbrella.

As part of the agreement, UHS agreed to pay off PDH’s long-term debt and invest $2 million in upgrading information technology and another $500,000 in capital improvements at PDH.

Early next year, the names of both hospitals will change when UHS becomes Vidant Health. Washington’s hospital will become Vidant Beaufort Hospital and Belhaven’s hospital will become Vidant Pungo Hospital.

Readers’ No. 2 Choice:

UHS takes over hospital management