FMH plans a future without an ER

WINNSBORO – After signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Providence Hospital and the County last month, the Fairfield Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees took its first steps last week toward planning for the future.

The signed MOU set in motion the construction of a new freestanding 24-hour Emergency Services facility in the County. The facility will be owned and operated by Providence Hospital and will subsequently lead to the closing of the Emergency Room and inpatient bed services at Fairfield Memorial Hospital after the new ER is up and running.

However, on the agenda last week was the Planning and Operations Committee report, which called for Board approval of funding for a consultant to help lead FMH in updating its strategic plan. Clarence Gilbert, chair of the committee, said the planning committee voted on May 4 to ask the Board to approve a planning retreat as well as a consultant to help develop a new plan.

“It is good for our organization to do an annual update of the strategic plan,” Hospital CEO Suzanne Doscher said. “We have found a person who was formerly with the SC Office of Rural Health, who can help us gather the necessary data and facilitate a retreat with the Board to draft a new strategic plan.” The consultant would only cost $2,500 plus expenses, she said.

“We have discussed this before,” Doscher continued. “We have pretty much addressed all of the aims of the (current) strategic plan…. It is time to discuss where we are going next,” she said.

This set off some discussion among Board members about needing more information before the planning retreat and how the Board would approach this new plan given the eventual closing of the inpatient hospital.

Dr. Roger Gaddy, hospital Chief of Staff, noted that Providence will have to be an integral part of the strategic planning process.

“It’s somewhat limited and out of our hands” at this point, Gaddy said.

Board trustee James McGraw asked that the Board be given more detailed information up front before they dive into a new plan. He said they needed to identify the issues before meeting to develop a new plan.

“We have to do some legwork leading up to this,” McGraw said.

Trustee Randy Bright agreed.

“I am absolutely all for the plan, but the Board needs to get a clearer vision of the issues involved and what the Board is actually going to be planning for,” Bright said. He suggested postponing the planning retreat for a few months.

In the end, the Board approved scheduling a strategic planning retreat during the August Board meeting. Gilbert said the planning committee would come up with a plan to present at the next Board meeting that would help clarify the issues a new strategic plan would have to address. Doscher said the consultant could start the process of collecting the data needed now.

The Board also approved a recommendation from its planning committee to fund two new HVAC units for the hospital, with the procurement going to the lowest bidder.

In other business, Board Chairperson Catherine Fantry thanked McGraw, who was supposed to come off the Board in May, for agreeing to remain on the Board until “further notice” from the County.

Hospital Chief Financial Officer Timothy Mitchell said the hospital’s overall financial picture showed much improvement over last year, with earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $99,216, compared to a $992,121 loss during the same period last year.

The hospital is also in a fairly strong cash position, Mitchell noted, with more than $1 million in cash at the current time. However, the hospital owes more than $2 million in accounts payable, and patient revenues continue to decline. The hospital posted an operating loss of $276,430 for the month of April.

Doscher also updated the Board on the Duke Endowment grant the hospital applied for to help improve the health outcomes of the community through the Fairfield Community Coordinating Council. The program is called “Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas,” and Fairfield County is one of five South Carolina communities to receive the funding, which Doscher said should start coming in around July 1.