05/18/10 — Duplin continues hospital deal talk

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Duplin continues hospital deal talk

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on May 18, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina moved a step closer Monday to leasing Duplin General Hospital.

Representatives from the hospital system and hospital board gave a presentation about the long-term lease before holding a public hearing for comments and questions about the proposal.

The hospital system leases or operates through management agreements a total of eight hospitals in the eastern part of the state, including Pitt Memorial Hospital in Pitt County, and has operated Duplin General Hospital under a management agreement since 2007.

University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina was the only health care company that responded to the county's request for proposals to lease or buy the hospital. Wayne Memorial Hospital received one of the 16 RFPs but chose not to respond.

The 25-year lease outlined by hospital and company representatives will pump $10 million in funding into Duplin General Hospital over the next several years. The company hopes to recruit six additional physicians and pay more than $1.4 million in hospital bonds from 2002. Additionally, University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina will focus on expanding and improving the hospital's services and facilities.

Depending on the terms of the lease, the company might also take over the $500,000 hospital payment from the county, although commissioners were warned to keep the funding in their budget this year.

University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina proposes to operate Duplin General Hospital through a subsidiary. Under the lease agreement, the company plans to work with locals to form a Duplin County health council to seek input on decisions regarding the hospital's budget, credentials and other important issues. The hospital chief of staff and chairman will be on the board, but will not vote.

The next months will be crucial to the process, as representatives from the company, county and hospital board work to draw up the legal documents to seal the lease. If approved by the commissioners at their August meeting, the lease will go into effect Oct. 1.

Former hospital Chief Executive Officer Richard Harris spoke during the comment period, encouraging the board to move forward with the lease. UHS has "top-notch CEOs and staff," and is very true to its mission, he said.

"It gives Duplin County a better opportunity to position the hospital for the future," Harris said.

In another major change for Duplin County, the commissioners voted 4-1 to hire Cannon Consulting to work with the Duplin Events Center. The company previously submitted a business transition plan for the center, which was approved by commissioners in April.

Jim Harris, chairman of the Duplin County Tourism Development Authority, urged the board to take action to support the event center. The center is crucial to encouraging tourism in the county, Harris said.

"Without it, we can't do our job in this county," he said.

Commissioner David Fussell asked Harris if his department would dedicate funding toward the center, but Harris responded that the state requires the department to spread the funding around to multiple sources to get "heads in beds" throughout the county.

The commissioners ex-pressed desire to have the tourism department work closely with the event center staff in the future.

After initially considering closing the facility due to budget cuts, county commissioners are examining budgeting $381,000 for the events center for the 2010-11 fiscal year. The county commissioners have not yet approved a final budget.