County Floats Loan to Hospital

WINNSBORO (April 15, 2016) – Fairfield Memorial Hospital got a shot in the arm Monday night as County Council agreed to loan the healthcare facility more than $400,000; albeit, with strings attached.

The loan of $423,092.38 comes less than a month after Council voted to OK the early release of $366,750.54 in quarterly budgeted hospital funds, and was the culmination of Ordinance 661, which amended the County’s 2015-2016 budget in order to accommodate the financing.

“Fairfield Memorial Hospital provides care to thousands of residents a year, many so critically ill that they couldn’t make it to another hospital,” Sue Doscher, the hospital’s CEO, told Council during Monday night’s public hearing on the ordinance. “If that was your family, cost is not an issue. Spare no expense in saving the lives of our loved ones.”

Doscher was one of 10 people – Council’s maximum – to speak during the hearing and urge Council to pass the ordinance.

The hospital’s original request, made on Feb. 15, was for $451,773. Interim County Administrator Milton Pope told Council during the Feb. 15 meeting that $305,523 of the requested funds was targeted for a CT and MRI maintenance agreement. The remainder, he said, was to cover the implementation fee of the new Wellness Works program, for which the hospital at that time had already signed up.

Radiology generates about two-thirds of the hospital’s revenue, Harry Palmer told Council last night. A radiologist with Fairfield Memorial, Palmer said the hospital performs approximately 20-25 CT scans a week, to the tune of $40,000, and five to nine MRI scans a week, for about $14,000 – if the aging machines are up and running. If the CT or MRI machine goes down, he said, the hospital is not only faced with a loss of revenue, but also the expense of paying out of pocket for replacement parts, which can range between $100,000 and $300,000.

“We as a board have worked many many hours trying to make sure that we do everything possible to keep that hospital open,” James McGraw, Chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, said during the public hearing. “Neighboring hospitals are closing around us, we have a challenge before us. But believe me we are almost there.”

Prior to the hearing, during the first public comment portion of the meeting, two members of the public questioned Council’s process in how they went from the original $451,773 request to what Pope said in previous meetings was a “placeholder” figure of $200,000 in the ordinance to what the ultimate number would be by the end of the evening.

“I was told that the figure of $200,000 was more or less just a place-keeper,” Bob Carrison said, “that at tonight’s meeting when the ultimate number comes out we’ll all know exactly what’s happened as far as the discussions and what requests were made and what decisions Council had made to try and help the hospital.”

Carrison said he wanted to see the hospital succeed, but that he would “like to see an explanation of your thought process and what you guys decided to do in executive session and how you came up with the numbers and whether or not you considered taking money, making a budget amendment taking money from the general fund that was left over from perhaps the fuel or some other line item and moving it into this item,” he said, “which could have been done through a budget amendment the same way as the $200,000. It’s just a little bit confusing to us.”

Beth Jenkins echoed Carrison’s sentiments, asking Council to vote against an ordinance that was “not transparent” and “not specific” until a breakdown of the funding and where it will go could be made public.

Strings Attached

When Council brought the ordinance to the floor, Billy Smith (District 7) amended the motion to approve, turning the $200,000 placeholder figure into a $423,092.38 loan. The loan carries the following contingencies, which must be met by the hospital before Council will consider any future funding requests:

The funding shall be based upon a two-month period beginning May 1 and ending June 30, 2016. At the end of this period, Fairfield County (all Council members) shall be provided a written ‘term sheet’ of contractual expectations by Fairfield Memorial Hospital and any potential real affiliates(s) or partner(s).

Fairfield County (all Council members) shall receive a copy of Fairfield Memorial Hospital’s application for S.C. DHHS ‘Transformation’ Funding.

Fairfield County (all Council members) shall receive a copy of the regulatory requirement guidelines which must be met for an application to be granted by SC DHHS ‘Transformation’ Funding.

The Fairfield County Council Chairperson or its Council member designee(s) shall be invited to attend all Executive Session or merger/Acquisition Meetings of Fairfield Memorial Hospital.

Fairfield County (all Council members) shall be granted direct access to an potential or real affiliate(s), partner(s), consulting firm(s) or legal representative(s) of Fairfield Memorial Hospital to gather information regarding any potential requests to or financial commitments of Fairfield County (Council).

Fairfield County (all Council members) shall be provided written monthly updates on the financial and operational status of Fairfield Memorial Hospital.

Fairfield County (all Council members) shall be provided a written plan of action on any potential improvements or discontinuations regarding any Fairfield Memorial Hospital departments or services continually operating at a loss for the past three months or longer.

Council passed the ordinance facilitating the loan unanimously.

 

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