Council lends money to struggling hospital; hospital searching for merger

Council lends money to struggling hospital; hospital searching for merger

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, SC (WIS) - On Monday evening, one by one, almost a dozen speakers explained to Fairfield County Council the value of Fairfield Memorial Hospital.

"For every job created by the hospital, 0.26 jobs are created throughout the county," said CFO Tim Mitchell.

"In the last twelve months, we saved the lives of 34 people who needed immediate intervention at our emergency room," added CEO Suzanne Doscher.

Some, like Mitchell and Doscher, used numbers. Others used emotion.

"The citizens of this county belong to you. They belong to us. Please give us a chance to take care and watch over them," said a tearful Roxanne Williams, a nurse with Fairfield Memorial.

The hospital said it needs more money from council to pay its roughly 150 employees, pay for equipment, and pay for supplies.

Doscher said closing the hospital isn't on the table, but it's something she has to be concerned about.

"Just like any small, rural critical-access hospital, we're struggling financially," she said.

In Monday night's Fairfield County Council meeting, council voted to lend $423,092 to the cash-strapped hospital, but there's a catch.

The amended ordinance, proposed by Councilman Billy Smith, has some teeth.

He said, instead of just giving out the dollars, his motion will require the hospital to meet a list of criteria to make sure the loan is spent responsibly and make sure the hospital continues to look for a merger to get its financial books in order.

The list includes seven measures:  a member of the Fairfield County Council shall be invited to all "Executive Session or Merger/Acquisition Meetings of Fairfield Memorial Hospital," the county "shall be provided written monthly updates on the financial and operation status of Fairfield Memorial Hospital," and, among others, the county "shall be provided a written plan of action on any potential improvements or discontinuations regarding any Fairfield Memorial Hospital departments or services continually operating at a loss for the past three months or longer."

According to the ordinance, unanimously passed by council, the contingencies placed on the loan must be met prior to the consideration of future funding requests from Fairfield Memorial.

Monday night the hospital's CEO told council that Fairfield Memorial is actively pursuing a partnership or merger.

Smith said that previous councils have made a habit of "giving" money to the hospital. He said a date hasn't been set as to when the loan will need to be repaid.

Smith said he hopes the measures will help the hospital get back in proper financial shape, so it doesn't shutter.

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