Acknowledging frustration over what he called "a silent process," the chairman of the board that governs the McDuffie Regional Medical Center told county commissioners tonight that a public hearing on University Health Care System's offer to purchase the hospital is being considered.
Bill Doupe, chairman of the McDuffie County Hospital Authority, also promised that if the hospital is sold it will not move from McDuffie County.
"Our goal -- and we're all committed to it -- is keeping health care in McDuffie County, not just for the next year or five years. We want to be here 20 years from now, 30 years from now, 50 years from now," he said, speaking for the hospital board.
Hospital administrator Doug Keir also told the board that the medical center has no long-term debt, and Doupe said that has given the board an opportunity to carefully consider the University offer.
"We have the time at this point to enter into a thoughtful process in exploring this option of whether we're going to partner up with another facility. If we were not in such a strong financial position, we'd be in a hurry. And if you're in a hurry you're not going to get the best deal."
The hospital authority and University have a confidentiality agreement that prevents discussion of the details of the offer.
"I think it may be frustrating for some of you and for members of the public who may be listening that you don't hear a lot about what's going on with the negotiations," Doupe said, "and the reason for that is that it's a silent process."
But he said the board looks at the solution as a community effort.
"If we don't do something, we're not going to have a hospital. And we need a hospital to stay in McDuffie County."
In other action, the commission removed from the agenda discussion of public works employee Susan Smith's appeal of a three-day suspension. County Manager Don Norton had given Smith the suspension for changing another employee's pay record. She has said she did so at the direction of her supervisor, who is no longer with the county. Norton has said that was a mitigating factor but that it did not excuse the action.
Commissioner Paul McCorkle asked that the board to remove the item from the agenda because of the absence of Commissioner Fred Favors. Last month, the commission delayed ruling on Smith's appeal because of the absence of Commissioner Sammie Wilson, who was present tonight.
The board also agreed to change the time of its next budget session, scheduled for June 28, to 7 p.m. because of U.S. Rep. Paul Broun's town hall meeting the same night. The meeting was originally scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. Broun's town hall is scheduled for 6 p.m.