WINNSBORO — Fairfield Memorial Hospital and Fairfield County Council have agreed to form a committee consisting of their members and officers to determine the best direction for the hospital and to help guide the facility through its financial issues.
The two groups held a joint meeting Tuesday at which they agreed on the committee and discussed a partnership with a third unnamed party to help run the hospital. All members of the hospital board and county council attended the meeting.
The committee will consist of Hospital CEO Mike Williams, three hospital board members, Milton Pope and three members of the Fairfield County Council.
“Our meeting was productive and we looked at ways to keep FMH as a viable health care option over the next year,” Williams said. “The committee will help us determine which direction to go with potential partnerships moving forward.”
David Ferguson, chairman of the Fairfield County Council, said committee members will need to be appointed within 30 days.
“The chair will make those three appointments to the committee and I need to make sure to have the most advisable people familiar with health care on the committee,” Ferguson said as he noted those individuals would know more terminology and nuances to understand potential offers.
Ferguson also noted how several successful small hospitals in South Carolina have entered into these types of partnerships.
Options range from potential mergers, to partnerships, to whether FMH should be a nonprofit or a for profit hospital.
Rural hospitals entering into agreements — formal and informal — with larger medical providers is an emerging trend as critical access hospitals work to stay open to provide services to smaller patient populations.
Fairfield County has provided several loans and has helped FMH remain solvent, including this past fall when council approved a short term loan to FMH so the hospital could meet payroll.
Ferguson said FMH repaid that loan to the county ahead of schedule. Though FMH had until the end of January to repay the short-term loan, Ferguson reported the repayment was completed prior to the joint board/council meeting.
Williams confirmed FMH used disproportionate share funds, or DISH funds, to pay the debt. Williams said a declining number of patients at FMH and delays in the state funding as a result of more security measures put in place since the data hacking at the S.C. Department of Revenue were reasons for the delay.
Williams said he was thankful that the county continues to step up and work with FMH, a critical access hospital.
During the meeting Tuesday, the FMH board explained changes within FMH reimbursement, which is declining due to changes from the Affordable Care Act. That trend comes even as FMH continues to help patients and community members navigate the health care marketplace and refers people to the benefit bank of South Carolina to help them determine what services they might receive.
One trend under the Affordable Care Act is to require hospitals to pay instead of insurance if specific patients are readmitted with the same problem within 30 days of treatment.
Additionally, Williams said census numbers show the number of total inpatient cases is lower for FMH. Williams said of the 903 patients to visit the FMH emergency room in December, one in three lacked insurance. Lower patient volume and less patients who can pay for their care or have insurance to repay the hospital are trends FMH noted consistently over the past year.