FMH finances still sliding; Douglas proposes new use for building

WINNSBORO – For the first time since the demise of the hospital was anticipated, the Fairfield Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees is entertaining a proposal with the potential to bring a new purpose and mission to the facility.

State Rep. MaryGail Douglas, District 41, which includes Chester, Fairfield and parts of Richland County, presented her vision for one possible future use of the FMH buildings and campus – a stand-alone respite center.

Respite care, Douglas explained, is intended to give relief for those caregivers who are providing home care for a loved one, typically an aged or disabled parent.

Trained as a nurse, Douglas said she spent 13 years at Fairfield Memorial.

“This is an opportunity for Fairfield County and this place we are in right now to transition into a place to take care of family members who are taking care of family members,” Douglas said.

“We often find that the caregiver falls apart in the care of that person,” she said.  “Right now in South Carolina we are spending millions and millions of dollars on long term care for older adults. We spend very little on those who decide to keep their loved ones at home.”

She said she started seven or eight months ago to “plant some seeds” in considering what will happen to the FMH facility when the emergency room is moved to another location.

“For me, I know if these doors ever close, we will never get them open again.  So that is my plea as I tell you tonight about my vision and the players that can make it happen.”

She brought some of those players to the meeting – Cindy Curtis, Director of the Area Agency on Aging (AAA); Fairfield County Administrator Jason Taylor; Peatra Cruz, Director of Organizational Development and acting COO for Eau Claire Cooperative Health and Dr. G. Cleve Pilot, Director of the Fairfield County Career and Technology Center.  Scott Campbell, Market Chief Executive Officer of Providence Health, was also in attendance.

In the hour-long discussion that followed, Rep. Douglas laid out her vision for a stand-alone facility that would become a midlands center for respite care, where families could take their loved one for one or two weeks so the caregiver could take time out for personal health care needs, a family reunion or even a vacation.

This would be a resource for the surrounding counties, she said. She sees a collaborative effort with Eau Claire, with its management and health care expertise, as well as with the Career Center, since it has a certified nursing assistant program but could also send its cosmetology and barber students to give grooming care to the respite patients and the culinary students could learn about healthy meal preparation in a residential care setting.  She said she envisions that the respite center could help its elderly clients with medication management and other health services which in turn would help keep them out of the ER.

But while the focus of the facility would be caring for the elderly and home-bound who need care, the purpose of the respite center would be to give their caregivers a break from the 24-7 job of providing home care.

“If we don’t take care of the caregiver, then we are going to pay the price in the long term with that patient,” Douglas said.

Both Douglas and Curtis talked about the availability of state funds, federal aging funds and other grants for respite care. While the dollars are limited, Douglas said, “I am telling you, the market is out there. Family members will pay to get their caregivers some relief. … The need is severe.”

She also said she has pitched this concept to both the lieutenant governor’s office and US Senator Tim Scott.

While both Douglas and Curtis pointed out that there is no model in the state to judge the merits and challenges of such an operation, Cruze said she felt that was problematic.

Still, Curtis joined in about the need for respite care.

“While the AAA already gives vouchers for respite care, there is great need for a place where families can place their loved ones for a short time and know they will be well-cared for,” she said.  “The respite care is critical for the caregivers themselves.  And the population of the US is aging and, within a few years, one in five will be over age 65,” she said.

Board members kept the session going with multiple questions for Douglas and Curtis and, before adjournment, Board Chairperson Catherine Fantry directed Suzanne Doscher, FMH CEO, to keep the discussion going about using Fairfield Memorial Hospital for respite care.