View Mobile Site

Who owns KershawHealth?

Murky answer could affect possible future sale or lease of facilities

Posted: July 30, 2013 4:08 p.m.
Updated: July 31, 2013 5:00 a.m.

In early April, Kershaw County Council Chairman Gene Wise said he would “much rather look at other agencies than close down the hospital.” Wise made the comment during a presentation by KershawHealth President and CEO Donnie Weeks with Mike Bunch, the healthcare organization’s vice president and COO/CFO. That presentation ended with Weeks and Bunch asking the county to take over deficit funding of its emergency management services (EMS) program.

Wise had asked what was happening in other communities across the region and mentioned a county hospital in Monroe, N.C., where Union County decided to lease the facility out following a financial crisis. Carolinas HealthCare System -- the largest healthcare system in the Carolinas, and third-largest public non-profit system in the nation -- made a $54 million down payment to Monroe County and continues to pay $6 million annually to lease the former county hospital.

At the end of Weeks and Bunch’s presentation, council voted 4-3 to not take over the EMS deficit.

Could council, based on Wise’s comments, one day decide to lease out or even sell KershawHealth to another entity? If so, who actually owns the hospital and, therefore, has the authority to make such a transaction?

Currently, county council appoints members to the KershawHealth Board of Trustees which, in turn, has the authority to vote on a myriad of actions, including to hire or fire the CEO. The lease or sale of the organization would end that relationship. Is council ready to give up that control?

The Chronicle-Independent has spent three months communicating with hospital and county officials in an attempt to answer these questions. The C-I sent a list of questions to both Weeks and Wise. With few exceptions, the questions were the same. Wise elected to forward his questions to County Attorney Ken DuBose, while the hospital chose to have KershawHealth Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Napper act as spokesperson.

In response to a S.C. Freedom of Information Act request from the C-I, DuBose provided various documents, including a copy of a deed relating to the ownership of KershawHealth’s main campus and its other locations. DuBose also provided a copy of a 1954 piece of “enabling legislation” that allowed Kershaw County to operate a non-profit hospital.

“KershawHealth (formerly known as Kershaw County Memorial Hospital and f/k/a Kershaw [County] Medical Center) owns numerous other tracts of land,” in addition to the main campus, DuBose wrote in a cover letter accompanying the documents. “These parcels are titled in the name of KershawHealth or one of its preceding names.”

DuBose said in the letter that a review of online tax assessor records could identify the parcels and their locations within Kershaw County.

In February 1954, the General Assembly passed several pieces of legislation enabling Kershaw County to create what was then known as the Kershaw County Hospital Board. It actually repealed an earlier, similar piece of legislation from 1952. The original board was to be comprised of 11 members, recommended by the county’s legislative delegation and appointed by the governor. Five of the appointees were to hold a seat on the board for two years, the remaining six for four years; afterward, board members were to hold four-year terms. The board was “authorized and empowered to do all matters necessary or convenient for the construction, establishment and maintenance of a public hospital for the benefit of the residents of Kershaw County.”

Among those powers were not only the authority to purchase or receive gifts of land and accept donations to do the same, but “acquire, purchase, hold, use, lease, mortgage, sell, transfer and dispose of any property, real, personal or mixed, or any interest therein.” In addition, the board was authorized, among a number of charges, to hire “supervisors, assistants and such personnel” it needed to operate and maintain the hospital; appoint medical staff, officers and employees; create bylaws and regulations; and “operate and maintain a charity ward and free services for residents of Kershaw County, who are destitute and unable to pay for needed hospitalization.”

The board was even given the power of eminent domain.

In June 1969, a new piece of enabling legislation abolished the 1954 board, transferred appointment authority from the governor to Kershaw County Council, and reduced the number of trustees to nine.

Back in October 1954, Kershaw County paid J.B. McGuirt exactly $9,656.43 to purchase 13.18 acres of property “between Little Pine Tree Creek and Roberts Street, south of Haile Street.” The deed states that the property was part of a larger tract McGuirt purchased from The Kendall Company in June 1953.

Seven months earlier, March 1954, the S.C. House and Senate voted to override a veto by Gov. James Francis Byrnes on another piece of enabling legislation. The legislation authorized the Kershaw County Hospital Board to issue up to $2 million worth of the county’s general obligation bonds to build the hospital where the main campus is currently located.

Two years before that, according to the legislation, the November 1952 election included a ballot question for county residents, who voted in favor of issuing the bonds. However, the 1952 legislation enabled the Kershaw County Board of Directors (the precursor to Kershaw County Council) -- not a hospital board -- to issue the bonds. The 1954 legislation transferred that authority to the hospital board.

DuBose noted public dollars were used to build the main campus in 1954, which has since expanded to include, among others, the Karesh Long-Term Care wing and a multi-million dollar 2004 addition.

“The genesis of this is that the county took out general obligation bonds to build the hospital. In the 1980s and ’90s, the hospital started paying off those bonds,” DuBose said.

Weeks made similar statements in presentations to county council and KershawHealth’s current board: that the healthcare organization became financially strong enough to take over such debt at that time.

DuBose also provided a copy of a portion of the S.C. State Code of Laws, specifically section 4-9-25. That section delineates the powers of counties, including the ability to enact “regulations, resolutions and ordinances … in relation to health and order … or for preserving health, peace order and good government.”

Paragraph (5)(a) of that section also states that each county government has the power to levy taxes and service charges in order to provide public services, including “hospital and medical care.”

During the intervening years since the enabling legislation, KershawHealth, under its previous name of Kershaw County Medical Center, has expanded its services across and even outside the county. These include the West Wateree Medical Complex in Lugoff, Outpatient/Urgent Care Center in Elgin, primary care offices in Elgin and Lugoff, Sleep Diagnostic Center in Camden, the Healthcare Place at Bethune and Physical Therapy Clinic in the town of Kershaw in Lancaster County. KershawHealth also offers hospice and home health services out of the Health Resource Center on Battleship Road in Camden, which also houses the KershawHealth Foundation. All but the Healthcare Place at Bethune are listed in online assessor records as being owned by “Kershaw County Medical Center.” The Bethune facility is listed as being owned by the town of Bethune. KershawHealth pays no rent to operate the clinic as part of a, technically, $1 lease agreement.

The main campus is actually listed on assessor records as being owned by “Kershaw County Hospital,” but only assesses the land value at $93,100 and includes no information on the facilities located there. “Kershaw County Memorial Hospital” owns a 2.5-acre property just south of the main campus on DuBose Court. “Kershaw County Medical Center” also owns smaller pieces of property on Roberts and Gardner streets as well as the entirety of the former Burndale Shopping Center. “KershawHealth” owns another small property on Roberts Street as well as part of the old Pine Tree Hill Elementary School property on Lakeshore Drive.

Additionally, KershawHealth still owns Primary Care at Elgin’s former home in the town of Elgin. It currently supports the Duke endowment-funded Access Kershaw in that location.

If, as was said at the April council meeting, the county owns the main campus, the town of Bethune owns the Healthcare Place at Bethune, and KershawHealth -- as a separate entity and under different names -- owns the other locations, then who has the authority to lease or sell “KershawHealth?”

Napper said it is his understanding that the main campus is a “joint venture” between KershawHealth and Kershaw County. The other locations, he said, are solely owned by KershawHealth, “as a private, non-profit entity.” That, of course, excludes the $1 lease for the Healthcare Place at Bethune.

“When we get into the sales and stuff,” Napper said, referring to any possibility of selling or leasing out the facilities, “that has a big implication for what we can do with that stuff. It’s not like individuals own it.”

Napper said he was unsure -- under the different ownerships -- who would have the authority to lease or sell the facilities.

“But, it’s important for me to tell you that since I have been on the board -- and I have asked almost every board member -- no one has ever expressed an interest in selling KershawHealth or leasing KershawHealth. As board chairman, it is my intention to keep KershawHealth private, not-for-profit, and controlled by the citizens of Kershaw County. I’ve also talked to several county councilmen, and there’s no intent on their part to look at selling it, either,” Napper said.

He said he could not speak to what would happen to any proceeds from the sale or lease of KershawHealth, but thought it might be similar to what would happen at The ALPHA Center where Napper serves as executive director.

“It is (also) a private, not-for-profit. If we sold The ALPHA Center -- I am governed by a board; none of us would receive that money -- that money would have to be split up between (other) private, not-for-profit entities inside of Kershaw County,” Napper said. “So, the money could not be used for anybody’s personal use; nobody would gain personally from it. I don’t know if KershawHealth’s like that, but that’s the way we’re set up.”

Napper mentioned, as an example of a possible beneficiary, that the Community Medical Clinic is also a private, non-profit entity.

“The (ALPHA Center) money would go back to the county and the county would distribute it; the county would look at distributing that money,” Napper said of an ALPHA Center sale.

Napper mentioned being governed by a board. That is also the case with KershawHealth -- a board appointed by, and that serves at the pleasure of, Kershaw County Council.

The C-I asked DuBose whether council can remove any member of the board or even dissolve the entire board at any time, if it chose to. He responded by providing another copy of the 1969 legislation that created the modern board and transferred the power of appointment from the governor to council.

One part of the legislation speaks to filling vacancies: “Appointments to fill vacancies occurring by reason of resignation, death or removal shall be for the unexpired term.”

With the phrase “or removal,” it would seem council could remove someone from the board at any time. While the legislation does not speak to any procedure to dissolve the board as a whole, it would likely take an ordinance passed by council to do so.

Absolute “ownership” of KershawHealth and its many parts remains unclear -- part of it is directly or at least jointly owned by the county; other parts are owned by KershawHealth itself while the Healthcare Place at Bethune is owned by the town. Based on the answers and documentation provided by DuBose and Napper, however, ultimate control of the healthcare organization appears to be more vested in county council via its board of trustees.

However, could a majority of hospital trustees vote to sell or lease KershawHealth, in whole or in part, on its own? Instead, might it be like the Camden Planning Commission’s relationship with Camden City Council and could only recommend a sale or lease agreement? If so, the decision to have a third party take over KershawHealth might ultimately rest in the hands of Kershaw County Council. Even that, however, appears to be a gray area, one addressed by Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter in a recent email.

“Good question,” Carpenter said, “and one that has come up before. Kershaw County has invested public funds into the property, which in our opinion gives us a voice in any discussions related to selling of the property.

“However, there is nothing statutory that specifically gives us such a voice.”

Interested in viewing premium content?

A subscription is required before viewing this article and other premium content.

Already a registered member and have a subscription?

If you have already purchased a subscription, please log in to view the full article.

Are you registered, but do not have a subscription?

If you are a registed user and would like to purchase a subscription, log in to view a list of available subscriptions.

Interested in becoming a registered member and purchasing a subscription?

Join our community today by registering for a FREE account. Once you have registered for a FREE account, click SUBSCRIBE NOW to purchase access to premium content.

Membership Benefits

  • Instant access to creating Blogs, Photo Albums, and Event listings.
  • Email alerts with the latest news.
  • Access to commenting on articles.

Contents of this site are © Copyright 2014 Chronicle Independent All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...