WINNSBORO — Despite not being listed on the agenda May 12, Fairfield County Council discussed and voted on a letter of support for Fairfield Memorial Hospital to affiliate with a larger hospital.
The letter of support was only approved after a few concerns in the verbiage were addressed by council.
The FMH board needed to come up with a support letter, according Fairfield County Council Chairman David Ferguson, to move forward with partnership.
“Stroudwater has told them (FMH board) they need to get this in place before the final documents are made available to a larger entity,” Ferguson informed council. “I certainly can understand the larger entity wanting to make sure the county council is on board with trying to make this thing happen.”
Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) stated she was in full support of the hospital, but did not want administration to include a timetable on building a new hospital.
“I think we need to be very specific with what we’re putting in there because you’d be surprised what one word could hold you to in court down the road and we don’t want to put ourselves in that position,” Robinson said. “We won’t even start getting our funds in from Reactor 2 until 2019 and that would be pushing the next elected officials up against the wall in order to accomplish something in the next five to six years. I respectively request we remove a number of years from the letter.”
Councilman David Brown (District 7) said he wholeheartedly supports the hospital, but inquired about the terms of dealing with the hospital’s prospective partner.
“What if the new partner wants us to build a $100 million hospital?” Brown asked. “We are extending ourselves out on a limb to a degree. And what if somebody comes in here and wants us to build a showplace down on I-77 that helps northeast Richland County more so than Fairfield County at unbelievable cost, are we obligating ourselves to that? I think we need to clarify one or two things.”
Interim County Administrator Milton Pope said that the language of the letter could be better to refrain from obligating the county to any specifics.
“My understanding that the intention is to not actually bind us to any commitment, but to show our continuing support for the hospital,” Pope stated. “And of course anything that happens prospectively of course that has to come back to council.”
The letter was amended with the changes specified by council and then approved unanimously.
Stroudwater Associates was hired by FMH in February to create an operational assessment with the purpose of partnering with a larger hospital. The study is costing $75,000, with Fairfield Memorial footing $30,000 of the bill.
FMH CEO Mike Williams said he is pleased with the progress made thus far by 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.
Fairfield Memorial Hospital will return its operational assessment to Stroudwater Associates next month to begin submitting prospective partnership proposals with larger hospitals.
Despite some outcry from residents to stop funding the hospital, Ferguson said he 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 in a joint meeting May 7. “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.
“It’s 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.”