Mary Valliant, who will serve as chief executive officer of the new regional hospital to be built near Denmark, says work is under way to prevent an interruption in health care services with the pending closure of the Bamberg hospital.
The Bamberg County Hospital Board voted to close the hospital effective April 30 in a special called meeting last week.
Barnwell and Bamberg counties have entered into an arrangement with an affiliate of Memphis, Tenn.-based Dobbs Equity Partners LLC to develop a regional health care system. The system will consist of multi-specialty physician centers in each county and construction of a regional hospital.
Both hospitals filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Code of laws while they work to restructure their debt.
Valliant said her first priority is to ensure Bamberg County citizens will be provided health care once the current hospital is closed.
“I’m not involved until the sale (of the hospital) goes through to Dobbs Equity Partners, but I can tell you that we’re working right now on an urgent care center that will have radiology, mammograms, ultrasound and a blood drawing station. They will have nurse practitioners and a medical director,” she said.
“All those things are in the works right now, and we’re moving as fast as we can. We really don’t want to have a gap in service, so I’m really trying to see what I can do to get it up and functioning.”
Dr. Danette McAlhaney, chairperson of the Bamberg County Hospital Board, said the decision to close the hospital was hard but unavoidable.
“We’re currently not able to generate enough income on a monthly basis from our daily care to pay overhead and to pay down even some of the post-bankruptcy debt,” McAlhaney said. “That board would have loved to have been able to guarantee no gap in service, but it came to a point where we were going to be out of money.”
A February financial report the board received March 28 revealed emergency room visits were down 8.8 percent and “all areas” of the hospital continued to be affected by the departure of the county’s lone general surgeon, Dr. John R. Ross, a year ago.
The hospital’s monthly net revenue for February came in at $730,000 — $283,000 higher than January. The increase was attributed to $458,000 the hospital received in debt set-off program payments. However, McAlhaney said the debt set-off payment was not enough to keep the hospital open.
“That went to cover expenses. It made it look good for a month, but obviously those funds go away shortly. It became obvious to us that we needed to close so that we wouldn’t incur more debt for the hospital,” she said. “It’s our obligation to be financially responsible to the creditors and to the employees.”
McAlhaney said she will not close her private practice in Bamberg.
Bamberg County Councilman Clair Guess noted that health care reimbursement “has changed so much over the past few years that hospitals are simply not viable unless they are large enough to host several specialties. That is the reason our hospital is out of money and the reason why consolidation of efforts between counties is so important.”
While Guess said there is still a strong market for new and existing health care centers, he was still “very upset with the possible end of services at the Bamberg Memorial Hospital.”
County Councilman Clint Carter said the hospital’s closure was somewhat inevitable given its low patient volume. “I’m sorry to see it close, but I knew it was coming,” he said.
County Councilwoman Alzena Robinson said, “I still support not closing the ER at Bamberg. I hope we can close the deal with Dobbs soon.”
Rick Greene of Dobbs Equity said South Carolina Regional Health System, a Dobbs affiliate, will take over ownership of the Bamberg and Barnwell hospitals once bankruptcy proceedings are completed. He said an urgent care center will hopefully be open by the time the hospital closes its doors on April 30.
“This is subject to obtaining state regulatory approval for which we have previously applied,” Greene said.
“The Bamberg hospital is still in bankruptcy. Subject to court approval, we hope to complete the entire transaction by early May. Our company is rapidly initiating plans to open an extended-hours, urgent care facility” which is expected to meet 90 percent of the community’s emergency medical needs, he said.
Greene has said he is aware of the community’s high indigent care population and is concerned about continued revenue loss.
“Clearly, this is a difficult issue and, I suppose, a contributing factor to the Bamberg hospital’s financial difficulties. Our plan is to offer affordable, top quality health care at a fair price. Our experience is to work with individuals to set up reasonable payment plans where possible,” he said.
County Councilman Evert Comer Jr. said while he would have liked the hospital’s closing to have taken place with the opening of a new regional hospital, providing high quality health care for citizens remains the county’s main objective.
“We have to take what we have for now, make the best of it and move on doing what we can in the interim,” he said.
Greene has said regional health care will be run by Barnwell County Hospital until the new hospital is completed and opened. Dobbs officials anticipate the Barnwell County Hospital will remain open for three years after the sale of the current hospitals are completed in order to provide time for the regional hospital’s construction.
“We know a large segment of the population is seeking health care outside of the counties. We have worked for more than a year to develop a plan to offer a health care system that will be unmatched in quality, timeliness and affordability,” Greene said.
“We hope everyone gives us the opportunity to prove that.”
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-533-5534.