New healthcare system gets final approval

It all came down to a matter of location, location, location Thursday evening September 29, in a special called meeting of Bamberg County Council and the Bamberg County Memorial Hospital Board in the county council building on North Street, in deciding whether to give final approval to entering an agreement with Barnwell County and Dobb’s Equity Partners LLC for the sale of Bamberg County Memorial Hospital assets, entering into a multi-county health agreement with Barnwell County and an intergovernmental agreement with Barnwell County.

In the end both bodies would give their approval to enter the agreement, but not before voting down a motion by Bamberg County Council member Chris Wilson to back out of the deal. Wilson said his motion was not to approve the agreement unless it contained the language that was in the contract when it was passed by Bamberg County Council on September 13. Wilson noted that the language in the contract had been changed since it was passed by Barnwell County Council and hospital board. It was noted during the meeting that in the developmental agreement on line 1.1 the words “in Bamberg County” were taken out of the agreement passed on September 13. In a written statement after the meeting Wilson stated the following:

“The issues I expressed tonight and the Motion I submitted were not lightly made. The hospital issue for me has never been about any one specific location. The issue for me is about making sure that any agreement we reached with Dobbs Equity and Barnwell County, and the contract that puts that agreement into writing, provided fair language guaranteeing reasonable access to any new Hospital for the citizens of Bamberg County that we represent. I had concerns about the most recent version of the contract and expressed those. The County Council and Hospital Board have acted and executed the Contract. I support Dobbs Equity in its efforts to build a state-of-the art facility and healthcare system and look forward to working with them and Barnwell County. I pray that and expect that Dobbs Equity will create a system that provides fair access to quality healthcare for the citizens of both Bamberg and Barnwell counties.”

Dobbs Executive Vice President Rick Greene, who was in attendance at the meeting stated after the meeting: “We’re obviously pleased that both counties have come together and agreed to sign the agreements. We realize it’s been a long and difficult process for all involved. We’re obviously pleased the hospital boards as well agreed to sign the contracts and we’re enthusiastic about bringing a high quality healthcare system to Bamberg and Barnwell Counties and we’re anxious to close the sale. At this point it’s up to the courts to approve the sales process and when they do that the happier we’re going to be,” Greene said.

In not casting a final vote on the agreement Bamberg County Council Chair Clint Carter when asked by Council member Evert Comer Jr., how he voted stated: “I told you the last time it don’t make a difference to me. I don’t like the changes but there ain’t nothing I can do about it. I don’t worry about somebody chewing my tail.”

Bamberg County Council member Alzena Robinson acknowledged that some people want the hospital one place and some people another, but her decision was based on what is best for the citizens of Bamberg County. “We must do what is best for the citizens of Bamberg County. Whether the hospital is in Bamberg or Barnwell County the citizens will be served,” she said.

Bamberg County Council member Evert Comer Jr. said: “Voting the agreement down would’ve meant no hospital.” He noted there was a 50-50 chance the hospital could still end up in Bamberg County. “I don’t like the change, but sometimes you have to make a decision and keep going.”

Bamberg County Hospital Board member Herman Brabham said he was “hoping that God would change Mr. Greene’s heart” in selecting the location of the hospital.

Bamberg County Hospital Board Chair Dr. Danette McAlhaney said: “It comes to a point we have to go on faith. It’s unfortunate it (the hospital) is unsustainable as it is. We have to trust that Mr. Greene and Mr. Dobbs and their company are going to do what is best for Bamberg County.”

Council members agreed to move finalizing the proposed Intergovernmental Agreement between Bamberg and Barnwell Counties to their October 3, meeting Monday night. In the Monday October 3, meeting in a discussion of a proposed third reading of the Intergovernmental Agreement between Bamberg and Barnwell County, Bamberg County Council members agreed to have Bamberg County attorney Richard Ness and Barnwell County attorney Ray Jones sign off on the wording in the document and authorized the County Council Chair to sign the agreement when approved by the attorneys.

In the public comments portion of Monday night’s meeting Bamberg native Nancy Kemp Watson address council concerning the hospital and school consolidation. Watson noted that she was speaking for herself and no one else: She said she would begin with the move to consolidate Bamberg School Districts One and Two. She said she and others had become accustomed to the idea of consolidation surfacing every two years and “quietly dying away usually”. She noted when she considers what has happen to our hospital and is still happening to it she was afraid to assume anything about consolidation. She acknowledged she did not know much about School District Two but District One was “packed from top to bottom” with intelligent, compassionate and prepared teachers and staff. She noted Bamberg District One was blessed with “exceptional leadership” that fosters exceptional teachers and students. Watson said the people she has talked to over the years do not “want to see these two districts combined.” “To put it in a nutshell, we don’t want it.” She said she didn’t think that County Council funds anything for Bamberg School District One and shouldn’t be involved in the decisions or operations of any school system anywhere, “I don’t think you should be in the school’s business.”

Watson stated that for some reason over the years the people of Bamberg and Denmark have been unable to get along together and for that reason she did not think it would make for a good school district.

On the hospital she stated that she had read that some new language had come up on the wording of the contract. Watson said she wanted to know if anybody on council owned any land that was under consideration to be purchased for the new hospital. She was informed by Chair Clint Carter that no one on council had any land that was under consideration for the hospital “thus far.”

Carter stated to answer another of Watson’s questions about the schools being consolidated which may have been misrepresented: “What was brought to us was to combine the administrations,” Carter said, “to give a letter of support. It would be up to the legislative delegation to make the final decision.” Carter went on to say at “sometimes it comes down to dollars and cents.” Carter who represents Ehrhardt on Council said “it’s been shoved down our throats, now everything is in Bamberg.

That’s why it doesn’t hurt my feelings to see the schools and hospital combined.”

Rev. Isaiah Odom, who offered the proposed resolution on consolidation to council stated that over the years the question has come up and came up again this year as to how long can a small county continue to support two school districts? Odom said his suggestion was for council to pass a general resolution and put a referendum on the ballot in 2012 where the citizens of the county can decide if they wanted to maintain two school districts or consolidate.