KershawHealth looking to fix financial issues after investigation

CAMDEN, SC (WIS) - During a closed-door session of the Aug. 1 KershawHealth board meeting, the board agreed to let hospital CEO Donnie Weeks walk away from his contract more than two years early.

The board also agreed to pay Weeks $524,000, the equivalent of one year's salary, to leave.

Board Chairman Paul Napper negotiated Weeks' buyout and the amount of money the hospital will pay him.

Although he admitted he understands why taxpayers would have a problem with the $524,000 buyout, Napper said there's nothing he can do about it.

"That's a separation agreement that we've agreed not to discuss and I can't discuss it with you right now because of legal reasons" Napper told WIS. "But, we have sent you that and it has been published and we'll just let it stay there."

The agreement also required the hospital to pay Weeks' personal attorney $5,000 for his work on the six-page retirement agreement.

Weeks does not have to show up for work to earn the $524,000, the contract shows. If the hospital hires a CEO before Weeks' last day on Jan. 3, Weeks can stay at home.

When told the public may have a difficult time understanding how an employee can continue to be paid when he doesn't have to show up for work, Napper responded, "You have to realize Mr. Weeks has been a 16-year employee with us. We have to keep him on because there'll be things, process, things we'll need to ask him in the future and he will be on call."

Part of Weeks' buyout requires him to help the hospital train a new CEO, even after his final day on Jan. 3.

The hospital had a man picked out, Weeks' second-in-charge Mike Bunch. But Bunch decided to keep his current job as vice president of the hospital. Bunch told the hospital he decided not to take the CEO position for himself and his family.

But the CEO's departure is not the only issue the hospital has dealt with as a result of our investigation.

When Napper took over as board chairman last October, he said he had no idea what he was walking into. What he saw surprised him.

"I saw some lack of trust with our physicians. I saw some lack of trust within the community. I saw a communication problem with the public and we're working on all those," said Napper.

Napper is optimistic the financial troubles we uncovered during our investigative series at his hospital can be fixed, saying the hospital was in "good shape" financially.

"It's not as bad as you think it is," said Napper. "As far as the Southeast, hospitals of our size, we're in great shape. If we don't make some changes, if we don't look at the Affordable Healthcare Act, we're projected to lose $5 million a year over the next five years. If we don't make those changes or that doesn't change, we could be in trouble."

Napper says the hospital board is making changes.

But our investigation found many of the top officials at the hospital earned six-figure salaries and walked away with tens of thousands of bonuses each year even though the hospital was losing millions each year.

"People don't like to hear that, but it's the way the healthcare industry does business to get good, qualified people," said Napper. "Now, having said that, we've heard the public and the public don't like bonuses, but we're under some contracts right now that will last for another year to two years that we have to start looking at. You'll hear this story again about bonuses, but in the future, the board will be discussing how we compensate our top officials and we'll certainly look at trying to get rid of those bonuses per se, but we've heard the public on that."

Despite the financial troubles within the administration at KershawHealth, Napper says his hospital continues holding onto a high quality of care within its medical staff.

"That's the kind of stuff you can't buy from a hospital," said Napper. "That's the kind of -- the public needs to know about KershawHealth. We're a great hospital. We give great care. Yeah, we've got some problems, but please, please let our staff, out nurses, our doctors, our staff at KershawHealth do their jobs because they're excellent people that's dedicated their lives to providing healthcare to Kershaw County."

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