County votes to dissolve hospital board

Published 8:26 pm Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Amidst strenuous objections by one commissioner, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of a resolution to dissolve the Beaufort Regional Health System Board. Commissioner Hood Richardson had the lone dissenting vote.

The issue at stake was $6.5 million the hospital board oversees — money that was set aside by the county when Vidant Health, then University Health Systems, took over the lease on the Beaufort County Hospital in 2011.

“A plan was devised to shield the county from liability by allowing the board to take that liability. That keeps the liability away from the taxpayers of Beaufort County,” Richardson said during discussion before the vote.

Richardson warned commissioners that dissolution of the hospital authority board and assuming control of the money would result in no oversight over Vidant’s lease, nor a safety net if Vidant Health should chose to close Vidant Beaufort Hospital in the future.

However, other commissioners disagreed, citing concerns about the language of the trust fund’s creation: that after five years, the county money that created the fund could be used  by the hospital board  in any fashion, as long as it’s healthcare-related.

“Sept. 1, 2016 becomes a very important date. Unless the board takes some type of action to address this issue, the money, the funds, would stay with Beaufort Regional Health System, and the residents of the county would actually lose that money,” Commissioner Ron Buzzeo said.

Richardson, who is chairman of the hospital board, said the hospital board has voted twice to roll the money into a trust fund after that date to deal with an unknown liabilities or Vidant leaving the Washington hospital.

“Let’s don’t have a replay of the Belhaven situation,” Richardson said, referencing Vidant Health’s closure of the small, rural Vidant Pungo Hospital on July 1, 2014. Richardson urged commissioners to sit down with the hospital board to come up with a solution together.

Commissioner Frankie Waters said rumors that Vidant Health is going to pull out of Washington and that commissioners would use the $6.5 million in the trust fund — along with a surplus general fund balance — to build a new jail are unfounded.

“There is nobody setting at this table, including Hood, that’s saying that Vidant’s going to close this hospital,” Waters said. “We’re not going to take this money and build a jail. I don’t know where that came from.”

By law, the money in the trust fund can not be used for anything other than for healthcare-related purposes. Commissioners plan to use the funds to improve paramedic-level EMS throughout the county.