County inches closer to hospital property purchase

WINNSBORO—As Fairfield Memorial Hospital prepares to close its doors, Fairfield County is moving forward with plans to acquire some of the hospital property.

On Monday night, council members voted unanimously to present a memorandum of understanding to Fairfield Memorial to purchase “some or all” of the property.

No dollar amounts were mentioned, though the motion said a price would be determined at a later date based on the fair market value.

The property must also be unencumbered by liens or other attachments to the title, according to the motion.

Council Chairman Billy Smith previously has said the properties of interest to the county were appraised at about $1.9 million including the rehab center, and $1.6 million without the center.

Smith has also said the hospital has a lien of about $400,000 against it from the S.C. Department of Revenue. The lien would have to be cleared up according to the terms of the county’s memorandum of understanding.

Applauding the vote was Laura Willingham, director of the hospital’s rehabilitation center.

“We’re very thankful that the county has stepped in,” she said. “I think that was pretty much going to happen. The county was behind us, and we’re thankful for that.”

At the May council meeting, Willingham spoke openly about issues concerning hospital finances and the treatment of employees.

Willingham said she ran into no repercussions for speaking her mind.

“I feel like the residents of Fairfield County deserve to have rehab here. They need it,” she said. “It needs to stay here in the county.

Fairfield Memorial’s board of trustees discussed the county’s memorandum in executive session at its meeting Tuesday.

No decisions were made and while trustees said they couldn’t discuss specifics, they said the discussions with Fairfield County have been highly positive.

“It was an important board meeting for us,” said Catherine Fantry, chairwoman of the hospital board. “We received information from the board in a positive manner.”

Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, there was extensive discussion about hospital finances and plans for disposing of assets. An executive from Providence Health also gave a presentation about the healthcare provider’s plans for Fairfield County.

Trustee Randy Bright asked several questions concerning Fairfield Memorial’s transition action plan, specifically staffing as well as how the hospital’s assets would be disposed.

Darlene Hines, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said some employees may leave before the hospital closes later this year. Others may be offered positions with Providence Health, she said.

“We’re keeping track of every employee that we have here,” Hines said, adding that the hospital was also tracking its leadership structure as well.

Bright asked about patient rooms. Hines said the hospital still has to keep the facility’s 25 beds to comply with licensing requirements.

Later in the meeting, Joseph Bernard with Providence Health provided a general timetable for construction of its Fairfield County facility at the bypass across from Bi-Lo.

Bernard said Providence anticipates advertising for positions in the coming days, possibly into early July.

Construction, he said, should be completed in November with a grand opening of the emergency room possible by mid-December.

“Everything remains on track as far as we’re concerned,” Bernard said.


Related:  Council makes offer to FMH,  Board to list hospital for sale,  Council wraps up budget requests, Providence, County break ground for ER