The Regional Medical Center's board announced Monday it has decided not to renew the contract of President and Chief Executive Officer Charles E. Williams.
Williams will remain at the hospital until his contract ends on Dec. 10.
“While I am disappointed that the agreement was not renewed, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the fine people of Orangeburg, Calhoun, Bamberg and Barnwell counties," Williams said in prepared statement.
"I wish nothing but the best for RMC and its physicians, nurses, and staff, as well as the communities who depend on RMC for health care,” he said.
The decision was made by the board during a special called meeting on Thursday. No reason was given for the board's decision to not renew Williams’ contract.
“The board sincerely appreciates Charles’ service to RMC,” board Chairman the Rev. Dr. Caesar Richburg said. "He has advanced RMC in many ways during his time here."
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"We are grateful for Charles’ contributions to RMC and, more broadly, to our communities," he said. "The board will begin the process for looking for a new CEO in the coming weeks.”
Williams will assist with the transition, according to an RMC press release.
Richburg, who typically serves as board spokesman, referred questions to the hospital's attorney, Laura Evans at the Shumaker law firm.
"RMC will honor all terms of Mr. Williams’ employment agreement," Evans said.
Williams came to RMC in December 2017. He was hired for $400,000 a year for a three-year term. The contract did have an option for a two-year renewal.
The hospital is owned by Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.
Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright said the news of the board's decision was a surprise.
"I am not there every day," he said, noting he wants to “get the facts” behind the decision.
"I thought he was doing a good job in moving the hospital forward,” Wright said.
Calhoun County Council Chairman David Summers said he got word about the board's decision about 9 a.m. Monday.
"I personally like Charles, but we have three on the board over there and we let them handle our part," Summers said. "I don't know how they voted or anything, but they do what they’ve got to do over there."
Summers said the decision is a big deal as RMC is one of the largest employers in the region.
"I support the board in whatever they do," Summers said. "Sometimes I don't like some of the things they do, but that is why they are put on there."
Orangeburg County Councilwoman Janie Cooper-Smith said, "I am overwhelmed with shock. I am highly disappointed. I thought Mr. Williams was doing a great job."
"He was doing a remarkable job before the pandemic and has been doing an exceptional job during the pandemic," she said. "I did not know the trustees were so dissatisfied with his performance and his vision to move the hospital forward."
Cooper-Smith said it’s not the time to get rid of the CEO.
"We need stability," Cooper-Smith said. "I think our community will begin to see the sun at the end of the tunnel but now all of a sudden the clouds of darkness have plunged."
The Board of Trustees will meet Tuesday, Aug. 25 to formalize the process for seeking the next CEO.
The T&D was not given advance notice of the Aug. 6 meeting.
"The meeting was posted on the website and we checked with legal and that was our obligation," RMC Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Carol Koenecke-Grant said.
S.C. Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers said the media should have been given notice under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
"The law still requires them to send out notices to those who request them," Rogers said. "Their meeting they had last week was an illegal meeting."
Rogers said the meeting was not properly publicized. He also noted the hospital needs to post meetings at “the place of business.”
"It is unfortunate their attorney does not know the law," Rogers said.
Koenecke-Grant declined to provide comment beyond what was in the press release, but said she would consult with the hospital's attorneys about the matter.
Williams replaced longtime RMC CEO Tom Dandridge, who served the hospital for 24 years. Dandridge was only the hospital's second CEO in the past 50 years.
One of Williams’ first decisions at the helm was to implement cost cutting measures in an effort to make the hospital more efficient after ending the 2016-2017 fiscal year with a $7.1 million loss. RMC laid off less than 3% of the hospital's employees.
During his tenure, the hospital closed its Denmark primary care practice in August 2018; its in-house outpatient pharmacy in September 2018 and its North primary care practice earlier this year.
In the fall of 2018, the hospital received a failing grade from The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit watchdog group, in its survey of hospital safety across nation. The bi-annual survey looks at several factors, including infections, problems with surgery and practices to prevent errors.
RMC was the only hospital out of the 46 surveyed in the state to receive an F. The survey data was collected between 2015 and 2017, before Williams’ tenure.
Hospital officials at the time said they implemented a number of measures to address the concerns, including developing annual safety surveys, a new patient safety committee, quarterly staffing plans for nursing and quarterly hand hygiene improvement plans.
In December 2018, Williams received a 5% salary increase to his base salary of $400,000. He also received a one-time, $60,000 payment per the covenant agreement the hospital has with search firm Wiff/Kieffer, which helped the hospital land Williams.
Richburg, who was also board chair at the time, praised Williams for reducing the hospital's deficit of $7 million to $1 million.
In April 2019, Williams helped to celebrate the grand opening of the Bamberg-Barnwell Emergency Medical Center.
The $8.6 million emergency department has seen greater than anticipated usage but has lost money since its opening.
Later that same month, the RMC experienced a shooting in its emergency department, leaving one employee in critical condition.
Financially, the hospital at the time was on the upswing, being about $4 million in the black compared to being $3.8 million in the red the same time the prior year.
In May 2019, the hospital board approved a performance-based year-end bonus structure for Williams of up to $105,000.
The bonus was contingent on the hospital improving its Leapfrog score; decreasing the waiting time in the emergency department; increasing Dialysis Access Institute procedures and growing the hospital's orthopedics, general surgery and anesthesia departments, to name a few.
The 2018-2019 fiscal year saw the hospital experience a $3 million loss in behavioral health along with a $3.2 million loss in federal disproportionate share money, meaning the total loss from operations by the hospital and its seven primary care practices was $6.2 million in 2018-2019.
However, the loss was offset by a gain of about $4.6 million in non-operating income for the entire system, meaning the total loss for the entire hospital system for the year was $1.6 million.
In an October 2019 interview with The T&D, Williams touted the hospital's progress, but said the hospital's turnaround could take five years.
Williams noted that over two years, RMC saw wait times in the emergency department to improve; surgery start times improved; the Leapfrog score improved from F to a D; the Women's Health Center on Pelham Court opened in August 2019 and security improved at RMC.
Williams has also been at the helm during the coronavirus pandemic.
Through the end of June, the RMC and its primary care practices lost about $14.7 million due to COVID but received $16.3 million in federal relief.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the hospital cut the ribbon in July 2020 on its new RMC Express Care facility located on its campus near the Dialysis Access Institute.
The center will provide faster access to care for minor, non-life threatening injuries and illnesses.