Hospital leaders vow continued progress
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Tammy G. Love
Director of Marketing & Medical Staff Development
Phone: (336) 651-8116
By JERRY LANKFORD
Progress will continue at Wilkes Regional Medical Center if the governance of the facility goes unchanged, hospital officials say.
But, with WRMC's lease up for grabs, it's unclear who may be running the hospital in the next few months. The Town of North Wilkesboro owns the hospital. Commissioners are set to consider lease proposals from various healthcare conglomerates.
There has been much debate and controversy between some members of the town board and hospital board over the governance of WRMC.
The WRMC Operating Corporation now leases the hospital from the town for $250,000 annually. That board is made up of Wilkes healthcare experts and business and civic leaders.
WRMC Operating Corporation Chairman Bert Hall, who is also a North Wilkesboro town commissioner, says the hospital is on the right track and that the current leadership would continue to usher in improvements if the non-profit board is allowed to renew its lease.
"When the governance issue is finally settled, it will enable us to recruit and retain doctors, nurses and staff and develop services," Hall said, adding that so far he feels good about the Operating Corporation's lease proposal, which is in the works.
The lease, which expired in May, was extended by the town until the matter of governance is resolved. The agreement had been for 10 years.
The Operating Corporation wants a 30-year lease, if it receives approval from the town board to continue running the hospital.
WRMC President and CEO Ted Chapin, although declining to give specifics about the Operating Corporation's upcoming proposal, said, "We are looking at something that will be very competitive."
Chapin added that a strategic plan, drawn to be a catalyst for hospital improvements, started about a year and half ago.
"We'll continue working in that direction," he said. "We have a strategy in place. We just want to be able to implement it."
Part of the plan involves $70 million, which would go toward capital needs over the next decade. Part of the money would be borrowed, while the other would be paid for through internal operations.
To leave the hospital under local control was the consensus of those who spoke at a public hearing last Tuesday evening, regarding a resolution of intent to lease Wilkes Regional Medical Center.
During the public hearing, which was held during the North Wilkesboro Town Commissioners meeting at Town Hall, about a dozen people spoke.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, prior to the public hearing, Martha Nichols set the tone.
Nichols referred to the recent political battles over the hospital as "Soap opera renditions of the game King of the Hill."
She added, "We need to have local control by local people for local people."
Carol Herman, vice president of patient care/chief nursing officer at WRMC, pointed out that the hospital has seen various accomplishments over the past two years, despite the controversy over the governance of the facility.
Hermann said WRMC has reversed its loss of market share to neighboring competitors along with seeing increases in patient satisfaction ratings.
She also pointed out that the hospital recently received a four-star rating, which puts WRMC among the top 25 percent of hospitals in the nation for overall quality of care. She added, that the hospital's OB/GYN services received a five-star rating, placing it among the top 10 percent of OB/GYN departments in the nation for patient satisfaction.
"Most astonishing to me, however, is that the significant progress we are making is occurring at a time of public debate about what's wrong with our hospital."
Former North Wilkesboro Commissioner Eric Williams said that he feared that leasing WRMC to an outside, for-profit entity would cause the loss of jobs and decrease the quality of care at the hospital.
North Wilkesboro businessman and resident Chuck Forester agreed. "I would regret losing local control," he said.
Resident Stanley Harris lambasted the town board for the amount of time its members have spent on hospital issues. "You need to worry about running the town," Harris said, adding, "I'm for leaving the hospital the way it is."
Toward the end of the public hearing, Commissioner Debbie Ferguson said that a long-term lease, for up to 30 years, would likely be best for the hospital regarding financial matters.
Williams spoke up to disagree, pointing out problems from a long-term water contract between the town and an outside source.
Hall and Robert Johnson both said they were against giving up local control of the hospital.
Commissioner Jimmy Foster said that stipulations could be put in any lease that would protect hospital employees and maintain the current level of healthcare.
Commissioner Leo Baugham said the contract should be one that would help retain members of the nursing staff. "They are the most important part of our hospital," he said.
North Wilkesboro Town Attorney Gary Vannoy explained that eight requests for lease proposals have been sent out and that bids by various companies would be collected by July 14. "Those bids will be reviewed and another public hearing will be held," he said.
Town Manager Hank Perkins said he hopes to start lease negotiations by mid-September with the aim of closing a deal by the end of October.