County, Providence mend rift on ER sale

WINNSBORO  – A resolution passed by Fairfield County Council Monday night has headed off a rift that developed between the county and Providence Health over Prisma’s proposed purchase of Providence Health-Fairfield Emergency Room.

Following Prisma Health’s surprise announcement in March that it had signed a deal to acquire the ER along with three other Midlands hospitals, Fairfield County officials – not having been informed of the sale – requested the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), which signed off on the deal, to pump the brakes on the proposed purchase agreement.

The county’s concerns were numerous – foremost was their concern about the continued delivery of quality health care for Fairfield residents. The county was also concerned about the effect the sale would have on its financial investment in the ER – $10 million the county had agreed to pay Providence over 10 years to be used for operation of the ER as well as $4 million the county had been required to escrow as assurance those ten $1 million payments would be made.

Fairfield County and (the former) Fairfield Memorial Hospital questioned the legality of the DHEC staff’s approval of an amended Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) that cemented the deal between Prisma and Providence Health.

Through its attorneys, the county formally requested in March that DHEC conduct a final review of the decision that allowed Prisma Health to acquire the four health care facilities.

A resolution passed Monday evening by Fairfield County Council and agreed to by Providence appears to have alleviated the county’s concerns by authorizing an amendment to the original transformational agreement (between Fairfield and Providence Health) in which both Fairfield and Providence agree that if Prisma does carry through with the purchase of the ER in Winnsboro, Prisma will return $3.5 million of the cash currently held in escrow, back to the county. The remaining $500K balance of the escrow will then be credited to the county’s next $1 million annual payment (which is paid quarterly).  In return for that financial concession, the resolution states that the county agrees to withdraw the appeal it has before the South Carolina administrative law court and then, going forward, to provide support in favor of Prisma’s acquisition of Providence.

“Everything else stays in place – negotiated term of providing care to the citizens, keeping the ER open, indigent care issues and other things,” County Attorney Tommy Morgan said.

“That’s all good news,” Council Chairman Neil Robinson said before gaveling the meeting to a close.

“The material change to benefit the county,” County Administrator Jason Taylor told The Voice, “is that the $3.5 million we had tied up in escrow is now back in the general fund for our use, and our residents will continue to receive quality health care through the ER.”