Acknowledging the community's frustration over what he called "a silent process," the chairman of the board that governs the McDuffie Regional Medical Center told county commissioners last week that a public hearing on University Health Care System's offer to purchase the hospital is being considered.
Appearing at the commission's June 21 meeting, Bill Doupe, the 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."
At its meeting Monday night the hospital authority board did not discuss a public hearing or the purchase offer.
Chief Financial Officer Pat Parris told the board that the hospital's losses for the year to date total $405,323, mostly because of cuts in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements and increases in indigent care.
She said Medicaid co-pays will increase in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, from $3 to $3.40 for outpatient care and from $12.50 to $55.40 for inpatient services.
"These people can't pay that," she said, adding that the increase will effectively cut Medicaid reimbursements further because the hospital will have to absorb those costs.
The board approved the expenditure of $8,250 for software designed to help it meet the Obama administration's push for conversion of all medical records to electronic formats. Chief Information Officer Lisa Tucker said that the total cost of the software is $82,500 but that only 10 percent of the cost has to be paid this fiscal year.
Doupe also recommended that an executive search committee be formed for a new hospital administrator. The hospital's contract with Quorum Health Services is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, and Keir is employed by Quorum.
The committee would come up with search criteria and report back to the board.
Doupe suggested that the search committee include Dr. Joe Wills, the hospital's chief of staff, and the members of its human resources committee, Dr. Daryl Wiley and John Seay.
Keir said he has been at McDuffie Regional for 20 years.
By GARTH SNOW
Mirror Executive Editor
Ed Bettross picked up the free T-shirt after Monday's visit to the Shepeard Community Blood Center van outside McDuffie Regional Medical Center.
The blood donor gathered his strength with some apple juice and chocolate chip cookies after making his gift to strangers.
He doesn't always accept a T-shirt, the regular donor said. But the bus brought a new style of shirt, so Bettross accepted a medium and went on his way.
"I feel like it helps people," he said. The fisheries biologist has never needed a blood transfusion, and he's never encountered the need during his more than 20 years on the job. But a family member has needed blood, he said. "I might need it someday. You never know," he said.
Not everyone is eligible to donate blood, he said, so he considers that ability a blessing.
Amy Bazemore soon followed Bettross from the van. She said her blood type and other rare factors make it safe for newborns. "So all my blood goes to little babies," she said. "I'm proud of it, too."
She enjoys working in the health field for Jim Capps Therapy Service. "I help people every day but this is one of the things I can do to save lives," she said.
Krista Purvis works in the lab at the Thomson hospital. "So I know how important it is for someone to have blood," she said. She, too, donated Monday.
Emily Sturkie, a recruitment specialist for Shepeard, told The McDuffie Mirror that the average number of people who "present themselves" for the Thomson stop is 22. Of course, not everyone is actually able to donate. In a publicity tour last week, Sturkie and Shepeard public relations coordinator Shannon C. Jones said the goal is set by averaging the previous three turnouts. That formula brought Monday's goal to 22.
The drive was scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m., and 20 potential donors had presented themselves by 5:30.
Chris Jensen, a CDL driver and phlebotomist for Shepeard, said the monthly stop at the hospital is one of seven regular stops in McDuffie County. Donors are only able to donate every weeks. "So 22 isn't bad," Jensen said.
Jensen said many blood drives are at schools or college campuses, which are out of session in the summer. He said that affects summer donations.
Jones said the demand for blood can be heavier during the summer. She said Shepeard serves 17 local hospitals.
To schedule a blood drive at an employer or other group, call Sturkie at (706) 737-4551.