FMH employees air concerns about leadership

WINNSBORO—At Monday’s meeting, council members listened intently as the director of Fairfield Memorial Hospital’s Rehabilitation Center openly criticized hospital leadership during public input.

“We question and don’t quite understand decisions made by administration, such as finances, priorities at this stage of the game and treatment of employees,” Laura Willingham, the hospital’s rehabilitation director, said. “Of course we’ll do what we’re asked to do. But it’s still disconcerting.”

Willingham also emphasized the need to keep a rehab facility in Fairfield County as opposed to having rehab patients travel to Columbia for service.

Smith commended Willingham for speaking publicly.

“I think probably since I’ve been on council, it’s the most brave thing I’ve heard spoken to  us,” he said. “When we question some of the hospital administration, we’ve been chastised. I hope there are no reprisals against you.”

Councilman Cornelius Robinson also signaled support for the rehab center.

“Rehab is something that we need in Fairfield County,” Robinson said. “Each one of us is definitely thinking about it.”

Sexual harassment suit filed

Willingham’s address was unrelated to a developing legal matter involving Fairfield Memorial Hospital – a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee.

Tabitha Williams, a former certified nursing assistant, made that claim in a lawsuit Feb. 22 in Kershaw County Circuit Court. The litigation was removed to federal court in March.

The lawsuit says a human resources employee made several unwanted sexual comments to her shortly after he started working at the hospital in October 2016.

The comments came during conversations at work, on the phone and via text message, according to the litigation.

Williams further says the employee tried to “lure” her into a sexual relationship. The lawsuit calls him a “sexual predator.”

She said the man fired her in August 2017, “ostensibly for reasons related to job performance,” the suit continues.

“He began a period of inappropriate and aggressive communications with Plaintiff in and out of the workplace,” the suit states. “Plaintiff is informed and believes that her termination resulted from her refusal to engage in sexual activity with Defendant.”

In its response, the hospital denies the allegations.

The hospital’s response says Williams refused to cooperate in an investigation of her claims. It further states Williams was fired for poor performance and attendance issues, court documents state.

Williams is seeking damages for lost pay, embarrassment and humiliation, punitive damages, legal fees and other unspecified damages.

No trial date has been set, though in April a deadline of Jan. 2, 2019 was set to complete mediation.

County Mulls FMH purchase

While the diagnosis doesn’t look good for Fairfield Memorial Hospital, efforts to resuscitate parts of it by buying some health care properties are underway.

At Monday night’s meeting, some hoped the county would vote to purchase several parcels associated with the hospital property. That was one of three items on the agenda for discussion in executive session, but a vote did not materialize.

Council Chairman Billy Smith predicts a vote will come soon.

Smith said the county is interested in purchasing parcels encompassing the rehab center, as well as a couple of private practice offices. He hopes a third party will take over operations.

“We’re close to making a decision. I was actually hoping for a little bit more in executive session tonight,” Smith said. “Certainly we hope to set it by the next meeting.”

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