Last updated: May 21. 2014 11:30AM - 425 Views
By Lucas Vance lvance@civitasmedia.com

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WINNSBORO — Fairfield Memorial Hospital will return its operational assessment to Stroudwater Associates next month to begin submitting prospective partnership proposals with larger hospitals.

Stroudwater Associates is preparing a proposed partnership model to affiliate Fairfield Memorial with a larger hospital.

The study is costing $75,000, with Fairfield Memorial footing $30,000 of the bill.

The contract with Stroudwater was signed in February.

Stroudwater is a private company that evaluates hospitals and comes up with a model to sustain health care.

Fairfield County Council’s Ad-Hoc Committee of chairman David Ferguson, Councilman Mary Lynn Kinley and Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry held a lunch meeting with the Fairfield Memorial Hospital board on Wednesday to discuss financial status and the possibility of partnering with a larger hospital.

Stroudwater evaluated the hospital last month, conducted interviews with each county council member and submitted a preliminary operational assessment to the hospital board.

FMH CEO Mike Williams said the board reviewed the assessment and will make a few corrections before sending it back to Stroudwater.

“I thought it was a good study and gave us some things to work on and work with moving forward with a partner (for the hospital),” he said.

In an effort to keep the hospital’s emergency room open, the assessment recommended employing doctors that can run the hospital floor as well as the emergency department.

Williams noted that model has been the trend in South Carolina’s rural hospitals like Abbeville, Allendale and Hampton.

Stroudwater requested FMH send back the report with corrections and a letter of support from the county by the middle of June.

Once the report is back in the hands of Stroudwater, its staff can present partnership proposals to other hospitals.

Ferguson said providing a letter of support would not be a problem, but a draft would first have to be presented to the entire council.

Ferguson tasked interim county administrator Milton Pope with drafting a letter of support, which will be reviewed during council’s regular scheduled meeting on May 12.

Despite some citizens outcry to stop funding the hospital, Ferguson does not believe in abandoning the hospital.

County Council has shown a dedication to keep the hospital’s doors open.

“Council has demonstrated it wants to keep this hospital in the county,” Ferguson said. “A key piece to economic development is having a local hospital. And 21 miles down the road isn’t going to cut it.”

Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) echoed Ferguson’s sentiments and noted that the county has always supported the hospital.

“Its our job to look after all of the folks in this county,” she stated. “Health care is changing and we’re going through a bump right now, but some people don’t have the means to travel 30 minutes to get care.”

On March 6, County Council held an emergency meeting to loan $500,000 to the hospital.

In a joint meeting the week before, council and the FMH board, Chief Financial Officer Tim Mitchell laid out a laundry list of debts that total nearly $3 million to 500 vendors.

The hospital is losing roughly $300,000 per month and revenue is down 40 percent.

In 2010, the hospital was making $1.1 million per month and now is bringing in $800,000.

Following that meeting, council tasked Pope with finding an option to fulfill the loan request.

After research and work with county attorney Jack James, Pope recommended council vote on an emergency ordinance.

Found in South Carolina Code of Law section 4-9-130, the provision allows council to vote on public emergencies affecting life, health, safety or property of the people.

After the joint meeting, Pope believed the hospital’s debt did qualify as an emergency situation.

“Based upon the information we received in that work session, they (FMH) do have an emergency situation at the hospital,” he stated. “That situation does potentially affect the life, health and safety of citizens of Fairfield County. Therefore, this ordinance seems to be in line.”

According to the ordinance, the loan’s payment is due in three years with no interest. Any changes to the terms would have to be done through an affirmative vote by council.

Williams said half of the loan would be spent right away to catch up on bills and the other half would be held to accommodate bills coming in through the next three months.

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