WINNSBORO — During Thursday (March 6) night’s emergency meeting, Fairfield County Council approved a $500,000 loan to Fairfield Memorial Hospital (FMH).
In a joint meeting last week between 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 interim county administrator Milton 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 believes the hospital’s debt does 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.”
After lengthy discussions between council members and FMH CEO Mike Williams, council unanimously approved the loan.
Councilman David Brown thoroughly questioned the hospital board during their previous meeting and did not hold back Thursday evening either.
“Knowing the situation that we’re in, what does the next 12 months look like,” he asked Williams.
Williams told council the board is considering three different options including partnering with a larger hospital, leasing the facility to a private company or downgrading the facility to urgent care exclusively.
Since 1997 Fairfield Memorial has been, by definition, operating at the lowest level of a hospital.
Williams also briefly expanded on the board’s work with a healthcare consulting firm, Stroudwater Associates, which 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.
Williams reported that the contract with Stroudwater was signed nearly one month ago.
Stroudwater is a private company that evaluates hospitals and comes up with a model to sustain healthcare.
Williams said that Stroudwater’s finished report is projected for the end of May.
Vice-chair Dwayne Perry held some fire to the hospital reps as well.
Perry asked Williams for a projection of where the hospital would be regarding the $500,000 loan from council.
“Regardless of what the situation is now, we still need to have projections and some type of forecast in writing for what you think is going to happen over the next three to six months,” he insisted. “You have to be able to project what you see for the next six months. After talking to other offices, they say we can’t keep throwing good money at bad money and the board is going to have to deal with this.”
Perry explained that council need projections detailing the hospital’s revenue and expenses for the next six month.
“We need to know how much is coming in and how much is going out because if we don’t, this $500,000 could be gone in the next two months and we’re right back in the same place,” he stated. “At the end of the day we have to have some type of projection because we know there is a finite number where we need to be or the hospital doors could close. We need to know where we’re going to be and how we’re going to get there. This is a real conversation we have to have.”
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.
Every emergency ordinance shall be designated to contain a declaration that an emergency exists and every emergency ordinance needs to be enacted by at least a two-thirds majority vote of present council members.
The ordinance once approved is active immediately and does not need any publication requirements and expire automatically on the following 61st day of enactment.