A doctor announced his resignation from the Regional Medical Center’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday, citing concerns about how a proposed partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina has been handled.

“I am not against a planned merger or takeover even with MUSC or another big system. I am all for that, but it has to be done the right way,” RMC trustee Dr. Mohammad Nassri told trustees during the board’s June meeting.

“What starts out right ends right. This did not start right to me. I hope it will end right,” he said.

“For me, I see no way to have a voice or influence or anything, if you will, and for that reason at the end of July I will no longer be on the board,” he said. “I regret to say that. I love this place. I wish the place everything that is good.

“I dedicated most of my life to this place. It is my second home.”

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Nassri did clarify at the end of the meeting that he will still practice at RMC and that he was just resigning from the board.

Nassri has been serving as an at-large board member. He has served on the board a number of times over the years.

From 2009 to 2012, he served as chief of medical staff and chairman of the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee. Nassri came back on the board in 2016 and has served both as a representative of District 6 and in an at-large capacity since that time.

A budget proviso passed by the S.C. General Assembly allows MUSC, within its own budget, to enter into a partnership with RMC.

MUSC officials propose entering into the partnership by the close of RMC’s fiscal year: Sept. 30.

The partnership has been touted as a chance to provide the RMC with a number of resources, including clinical, educational and research programs with an aim at improving care and the financial outcomes of the hospital.

The proposal that’s being discussed would keep the RMC board in place for quality oversight, medical staff accreditation and community engagement, while financial responsibility for RMC would fall under the MUSC board. All RMC employees would remain under the proposal.

A working group has been formed to help implement the partnership. The group is to be responsible for drafting a plan that will be provided to the local legislative delegation and Orangeburg and Calhoun county councils for review and action.

Orangeburg and Calhoun counties own the hospital.

The working group has been asked to submit its recommendations before Sept. 1.

Upon review, both councils would pass ordinances by Oct. 1 reflecting the recommended implementation of the partnership, according to a document.

The local legislative delegation has expressed its support for the partnership.

Nassri said his main concerns have been the lack of transparency and communication about the proposed partnership.

“I have been troubled quite a bit with this MUSC/Orangeburg saga,” Nassri told trustees. “I get asked questions upstairs from personnel: What is going to happen? What is my job looking like? Where do we go from here?”

“And I have no answers and I am not sure anyone has any answers yet,” he continued. “This whole thing has been bewildering, if you will, to me.”

“I don’t know what the intention of this whole thing is,” he continued. “Is it a merger? Is it a takeover? Is it a gift to MUSC?

“What is MUSC planning to do with the place? … What do they expect of us? What do we expect from them? We have no idea.”

Nassri said the only information he has been able to glean from the proposed partnership has been from the newspaper.

“The (local legislative) delegation does not have the courtesy to reach out to the board who governs the hospital to tell us where we stand and what needs to be done,” Nassri said. “I have never seen anything like this. To me, it seems like a hostile takeover.”

One of Nassri’s concerns is the composition of a working group implementing the partnership.

“Why is the chair of the board not on the committee?” he said. “We don’t know the answer.”

Nassri said he takes issue with the fact that the state has decided the composition of the working group rather than Orangeburg and Calhoun county councils.

“What is the planning committee’s agenda to speak about or discuss?” Nassri said. “I would like to know.”

RMC trustee Dr. Franklin Coulter, who is a member of the working group, said the working group has not met yet. Members of the group have been provided forms to fill out expressing their availability for a meeting.

“One of the things they did say was that the people who are on the committee are not in stone,” Coulter said. “So I will be making a recommendation during that first meeting that we do add some people to that planning committee.”

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said “I want to thank Dr. Nassri for his many years of dedicated service to not only the RMC board but to the patients he has cared for in his practice.”

“I wish him all the best,” she said, speaking after the meeting.

Cobb-Hunter has helped spearhead the effort to bring about the partnership between the hospital and MUSC.

Cobb-Hunter said the priority for the partnership is to ensure that “access to quality health care remains a viable option for the community RMC serves.”

“While I can appreciate questions that board members have, I want to remind RMC employees of what has already been publicly stated: there will be no loss of jobs associated with this partnership with MUSC,” Cobb-Hunter said. “To the contrary, the partnership will strengthen and enhance the health care workforce and available health care services options in the area.”

Nassri says RMC is viable.

“It is not going under. It needs help. It needs some additional resources, but the hospital is viable and will play a vital role in this community for decades to come,” he said.

Nassri also noted that while RMC had a D in its spring 2022 Leapfrog safety grade, MUSC had a C in the same survey. Leapfrog is a national hospital safety watchdog group.

“We are not as bad as some people are saying we are in the news media,” he said.

RMC Board Chair the Rev. Dr. Caesar Richburg asked Nassri to reconsider his decision to leave the board.

“We wish you to know how much of an asset you have been,” Richburg said during the meeting. “God knows you have been.”

Richburg mentioned others, like Coulter, Dr. John Samies and Betty Henderson.

“It is an institution of knowledge. It really makes all the difference in the world. A lot of that knowledge has helped us. It has helped us to not make mistakes that ordinarily we would have made as a board,” he said.

“You have bushels of knowledge, my friend, regarding our institution, our beloved RMC,” Richburg said.

Richburg’s comments received several nods of approval from other board members.

Richburg said he understands that realignments and partnerships are common and has publicly said the hospital board was in the process of forming an ad hoc committee to discuss a partnership even before the S.C. General Assembly’s proviso.

“We just want it to work. We don’t want to lose our good physicians. We don’t want to lose our good leadership. They bring value to the table,” he said.

Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright said after the meeting that Nassri, “has been an asset to the board, to the hospital and to the community.

“I am sure he will continue to be.”

Wright said Nassri has the right to express his opinion and to do what he feels like he needs to do.

“There will be a lot of different opinions with this process,” Wright said.

Wright explained that the process started with a state proviso and hence the state has placed the initial working group together to begin the process.

He affirmed the county will have a voice as the process moves forward and will make sure RMC is protected.

“We are looking out for what is best for Orangeburg County and for the hospital as we move forward,” he said. “I am open to the people if there are any suggestions and if there is any way I can change things as we move this process forward.”

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