FMH on the Clock for Merger

WINNSBORO – In a discussion that was held almost entirely in executive session on Jan. 29, the Fairfield Memorial Hospital Board of Directors updated County Council on the progress of a potential merger with a larger facility in Richland County.

After the meeting, Mike Williams, CEO, said he felt confident that Fairfield Memorial would be able to seal a deal with a Richland County facility, but added that time was running out.

“It’s looking good,” Williams said. “If something is going to happen it’s going to have to happen before June 15.”

June 15 is the deadline for the hospital to utilize $15 million from the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services for assistance in the merger, Williams said.

Last May, County Council offered a letter of support for the hospital in its efforts to court a partner, and last March the County issued a $500,000 emergency loan to Fairfield Memorial just so the hospital could meet its payroll. As of at least last December, the hospital remained delinquent on its contributions to the S.C. Retirement System. The Board voted in October to pay the employee portion into the system on a monthly basis and to develop a plan to bring the employer portion up to date and keep it current.

While the hospital has struggled financially in recent years, prompting the need for a merger, Tim Mitchell, the hospital’s Chief Financial Officer, said after the Jan. 29 meeting that Fairfield Memorial was actually projecting a profit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015.

“At the end of the first quarter of this fiscal year we had a small loss of $215,000,” Mitchell said, “but last year (it) was a $727,000 loss for the three months a year ago. From (2013) to (2014) we’ve cut the loss from $1.1 (million) to $356,000.”

Cuts have been a large part of reducing the hospital’s losses, with Fairfield Memorial cutting the full-time radiologist position, reducing the number of staffed beds to six and even closing the cafeteria last November. Whether a merger with a larger facility would mean more cuts is unclear, but Williams said it was a possibility.

“They (the potential partner in the merger) would make that decision,” Williams said. “It’s possible, because you’re talking about the economy of scale and we’re averaging four or five patients.”

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