The Rev. James McGee took over in 2004 as the ninth CEO of The Oaks. He led the continuing-care retirement community for a dozen years of adaptation to change and modernization of services, retiring in 2015.
In exiting as leader of The United Methodist Church-affiliated facility, McGee warned of difficult times. Federal and state funding cuts are the most significant challenges The Oaks faces.
At the same time funding is being cut, “you have an increase in the number of regulations being dumped on you. You need to comply with the regulations when there is no funding to go with it,” he said.
He cited the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services International Classification of Diseases coding system. The system allows for greater specificity in describing a patient’s diagnosis and is designed to make the billing process more streamlined and efficient.
"Before we had about 4,000 codes. Now we have 64,000 codes," McGee said. "If you don't code something properly, you don't get reimbursed by Medicare or Medicaid."
Further challenges awaited McGee's successor, Andy Cox. Despite trimming staff and making other cuts, The Oaks has continued to operate at a deficit -- one that reached the crisis stage in 2019 with the facility $17 million in debt and losing $125,000 a month.
That led to a search for alternatives, with the only one being found close to home in the form of a sale. The S.C. United Methodist Annual Conference, The Methodist Oaks Board of Trustees, South Carolina Conference UMC Bishop Jonathan Holston and his cabinet gave their blessing to a sale of the facility to The Oaks of Orangeburg LLC led by Clay Fowler, who has been successful locally as owner and operator of Orangeburg's Longwood Plantation Assisted Living and Magnolia Place Memory Care.
"The Board of The Methodist Oaks does not believe that the current operations of The Methodist Oaks can continue to contribute to and carry out the mission of The Methodist Oaks without financial aid and the anticipated sale," a resolution presented to the S.C. United Methodist Annual Conference stated.
Though few details have been made available on what the sale will mean for operations, change is inevitable. The Oaks will no longer be a non-profit entity, meaning altering the present course to become profitable is necessary.
Orangeburg can hope McGee’s reaction to news of the sale is on target: "While I hate to see The Oaks sold, I certainly understand the necessity in order to protect the residents and staff. I have confidence in the buyers."
The Oaks’ residents are important to the Orangeburg community as much as its campus and facilities are historically and economically significant. Losing its services from independent living to long-term care would be tragic.