The Medical University of South Carolina would lease the Regional Medical Center under a proposal that some officials believe will improve care and financial outcomes at the Orangeburg hospital.

Under the proposal, the Charleston hospital would enter into a 99-year lease with RMC, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter said Monday.

“All this business about merging, selling, hostile takeover, none of that has anything to do with what is actually going on,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, discussed the proposal during an Orangeburg County Legislative Delegation meeting on Monday.

The working group tasked with drafting an ordinance to make the partnership a reality has been meeting since the first week of August. Its last meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 25.

“We are on schedule and expected to meet both the Sept. 1 deadline for having our work finished as well as the Oct. 1 deadline for this partnership taking effect,” Cobb-Hunter said. “The discussions have gone quite well in my view.”

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The partnership would provide RMC with a number of resources, including clinical, educational and research programs with an aim at improving care and financial outcomes at the hospital.

Under the proposal, the RMC board would remain 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.

There will be a public hearing on the partnership on Thursday, Sept. 8 at Roquemore Auditorium.

Any agreement will have to be approved by Orangeburg and Calhoun county councils.

Both county councils have gone on record endorsing a partnership. Orangeburg County owns 87% of the hospital while Calhoun County owns 13%.

The lease that’s being discussed would automatically renew unless either MUSC or Orangeburg and Calhoun county councils have reservations about extending the lease.

Cobb-Hunter said the hospital has struggled financially and the fact that it is owned by the counties has precluded the state from being able to assist.

“We are not just talking about affiliating with them or partnering with them just to keep the RMC open,” Cobb-Hunter said. “The conversations we have been engaged in include looking at RMC as a satellite kind of thing focused strictly on rural health and access to rural health. We are talking about a family residency.”

Cobb-Hunter aimed to dispel some misinformation or questions that have circulated.

She heard concerns about why the hospital’s attorney and county attorneys were not involved in the process.

She noted the partnership is being created under a proviso passed by state lawmakers.

“A proviso is state law, which means legislative counsel is there to do legal work for us and I just did not think, the hospital bleeding red ink as they are, that we needed to be incurring legal costs,” she said. “It just made sense to me to have legislative counsel do this as opposed to the individual counsels and the hospital doing billable hours.”

She said finishing touches will be completed on the draft plan and it will be reviewed to ensure that the legal language is correct.

“We are not negotiating contracts,” Cobb-Hunter said. “That is where the lawyers come in for the counsel as well as MUSC’s lawyer. What we are doing is as much as we can is giving them the true fiscal picture so they know what they are dealing with.”

Cobb-Hunter said most of the questions and comments have come from doctors worried about their compensation. RMC Chief of Medical Staff Dr. Lucius Craig was been working with MUSC on the issue.

“We are comfortable the concerns the physicians have raised are taken in account by them having their own representative talking to MUSC,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said “This is something much needed.

“We cannot afford not to have a hospital in Orangeburg. We see the trend around the state with some counties losing their hospital and other counties doing the same thing we are contemplating doing, which is either merging or becoming part of a larger hospital system. That is just the way hospital services are going to be delivered in the future. I think the day a small hospital can survive on its own is probably passing us by. This is much needed and very timely.”

Hutto asked if the Bamberg-Barnwell County Emergency Center in Denmark would be a part of the partnership.

“There are no services that RMC is currently offering that will be curtailed,” Cobb-Hunter said. She said jobs will be saved as well.

“The hospital was asking the question: Do we balance the budget and reduce compensation to balance it? My response to that was, ‘Y’all have been operating quite a while at a deficit. I don’t understand why you are talking about balancing the budget now at the risk of losing physicians,’” she said.

Cobb-Hunter said MUSC has been clear that Bamberg County would be a part of the partnership, noting there have been conversations with Denmark Technical College, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, South Carolina State University and Claflin University.

“MUSC is real excited about where we are, so far with the kind of things that are here, such as research opportunities that are here, like the 1890 Program at State,” Cobb-Hunter said. “This partnership is really going to be a game changer, I think, from a health care standpoint.”

As the state’s flagship research hospital, MUSC should take on a rural mission, Hutto said.

“We have health care disparities, we’ve got low birth weight infants and other challenges they may not have in the greater Charleston area,” he said. “If they truly are going to be a state hospital, they need to know what the impact of health care is across South Carolina.”

Cobb-Hunter says most concerns and questions have been answered and that “everybody appears to be on the same page and wanting this to move forward.”

“I am hopeful we will be able to do that,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Sen. Vernon Stephens, D-Bowman, praised the venture, saying MUSC will provide convenient and affordable health care to rural South Carolina.

“When you look at Orangeburg and the Regional Medical Center, you look at their track record over the last decade, there have been some in-depth things that needed to come out that didn’t come out and did not show a clear path for the hospital,” he said. “I think this is the best thing that could have happened for the Regional Medical Center.”

Stephens said he sees the partnership as a “beautiful marriage.”

“This will be a golden opportunity for health care advancement in the three-county area,” Stephens said.

In other business, the delegation unanimously appointed Andria Jeffries, Judy Harrold and Cheryl Coleman to the county’s Mental Health Board.

Three vacancies remain on the board. Cobb-Hunter requested delegation members nominate individuals from other parts of the county to fill the remaining three board seats as all three individuals named to the board are from Orangeburg.

Several candidates running for several judicial seats and a University of South Carolina board seat introduced themselves to the delegation, including Orangeburg attorney Chad McCutchen, who is running for the Circuit Court Judge at-large Seat 3 position.

The elections for judicial seats will be held in January and February of 2023.

The next delegation meeting will be held in October.

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