Between 75 and 100 people attended a public meeting sponsored by Preserve Camden with Responsible Growth at the National Steeplechase Museum in Camden on Friday afternoon to hear more about plans to rebuild the Karesh Long Term Care Center (commonly referred to as the Karesh Wing) at Beechwood. They also wanted to learn more about the ultimate plans for Beechwood, a 65-acre property annexed by the city more than a decade ago on Knights Hill Road.
At Preserve Camden’s invitation, Derial Ogburn, chairman of the board for the Health Services District of Kershaw County (HSDKC) laid out that vision, often switching between what the board has done collectively and what he hopes to see personally for the property.
In October 2018, Ogburn announced to both Camden City and Kershaw County councils that the HSDKC was purchasing Beechwood from owner Lucy Lindsay for $500,000 with the intention of building a new Karesh Wing there. At that time, at again Friday, Ogburn said doing so would allow Karesh to increase its bed count to 132, including long-term and rehabilitation beds. Friday evening, he said some of the beds may even be used for memory care.
During Friday’s approximately hour-long meeting, Ogburn also repeated that while Beechwood’s address is on Knights Hill Road, the new Karesh Wing would be built at the northeast corner of the property, behind Food Lion, with an entrance built on property the HSDKC purchased between the Dusty Bend Post Office and Department of Mental Health building on S.C. 97.
Later in the meeting, Ogburn said his colleagues want to make that entrance “as harmless as possible” for neighboring properties.
Ogburn said the primary goal of his board -- made up of himself, Eric Boland, Katie Cantey, John Koumas Jr., Walter Long, Nick Moore, Susan Outen, Wayne Tidwell and Shannon West -- is to provide health care to the community of Kershaw County.
As such, the HSDKC still owns the Camden and Elgin properties on which KershawHealth operates and leases to its parent company, LifePoint Health. It also owns the former sites of the Burndale Shopping Center and old Pine Tree Hill Elementary School, both of which the board has placed on the market.
Not including the properties, Ogburn said the HSDKC has a “goodly sum of money” made up of investments and cash of “about $50 million in assets and securities.”
“Some of that is earmarked to make sure that our retirement plan (is funded),” he said. “We have put some money in it regularly over the past few years to enhance that and we could pay it all off if we needed to.”
Ogburn then told the story about how came to know about Beechwood and, ultimately, decided it would be a good place for Karesh and, perhaps, more.
“(State Sen.) Vincent Sheheen invited me one day to ride around with him. He was showing me some of the projects he was working on in conjunction with the city council and county council and took me down to the interstate with all the activity that’s going on down there,” Ogburn said. “Then he said, ‘You got a minute? Let’s go look at something.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s fine,’ and he drove me up to Beechwood and we drove in the front gate up there and he said, ‘What do you think about this?’ I said, ‘Well, this is beautiful. Tell me a little bit about it.’ So, he told me a little bit about it and asked me, ‘What do you think about putting the Karesh Wing here?’ And I thought, ‘My goodness.’ He said, ‘I think it’s on the market for $2.7 million.’ And I said, ‘Let me think about it a little bit.’”
Ogburn said he talked to his board members and in September 2018 he asked them to give him the power to negotiate the purchase with owner Lucy Lindsay’s attorney, Ed Royall, and accountant, Austin Sheheen. He said he went to Royall the next day and discussed the idea, including necessary buffers, whether or not the original home could be preserved as well as the trees on the property.
“So he said, ‘I’ll call her.’ And he called me back in about 30 minutes and said, ‘I talked to Lucy and she said under the circumstances she thinks that property ought to be worth $500,000.’ And I said, ‘Ed, it’s done, you just put my name on the top of it,’” Ogburn said, eliciting a round of laughter.
A moment later, he soberly told the crowd that the HSDKC had the property appraised at not the original $2.7 million asking price, but $4.7 million.
“So, we’re in good shape,” Ogburn declared.
Ogburn said the board has hired Stuart Barber, of McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, to design the new Karesh Wing. Barber is the son of John Barber, executive vice president and chief financial officer of White Oak Management Inc., who was on hand during Friday’s meeting to answer questions. White Oak manages the Karesh Wing for the HSDKC. Ogburn said Stuart Barber helped design White Oak’s latest, state-of-the-art long term care center in Spartanburg.
According to Ogburn, his board voted on May 13 to have contractors look at the Beechwood home about at least stabilizing the structure. He said while it is his personal preference to restore the residence, he was not sure it could be done.
“It’s got some rot on the back of it where the gutters have failed… on stabilizing the house; that would be our first step and then decide what we’re going to do with it later,” Ogburn said. “I know we can never justify, financially, restoring that house. What kind of use can you put a house like that to and recover over, I’m guessing, upwards of a million dollars of renovation?”
He said the house is in good shape otherwise.
“And I, for one -- and I’m only one of nine -- am in favor of restoring that house, in favor of keeping it because I think in the grand scheme of where I want to take this thing -- my dream is, when this thing is done, that house would be a wonderful place for us to have gatherings for the residents, dances, for parties, celebrations; we could use it for our office. It’d take a long time to recover a million dollars… but I look at the fact that we have a $4.7 million piece of property and we’ve only got $500,000 in it. So, I feel like I’m playing with the house money right now,” Ogburn said.
He said that at Monday night’s meeting of the HSDKC board, members were expected to vote to engage professionals to create a master plan for the entire property so it can decide now what it wants the property to look like.
“And that’s where I’m looking for input from you all,” Ogburn said. “I’m satisfied that one of the ways we’re going to look is going to be an assisted living segment of the property and then, perhaps, some retirement cottages and retirement homes.”
Ogburn said he wants to make sure the HSDKC “gets the density right” -- that would be less dense than some of the early proposals for business.
“That’s not what we want,” he said.
Meanwhile, the HSDKC is working toward obtaining a certificate of need (CoN) from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) for the new Karesh facility. John Barber estimated that combining about a six-month turnaround for that and an additional 16 to 18 months construction time, it will likely be two years before the new Karesh opens for patients.
Ogburn said the HSDKC earns more than $2 million for the state’s tax debt set off program from people entitled to a state refund but have not paid off their medical-related debts.
“So, we have some money,” he said.
Keeping in mind that the HSDKC is, technically, nonprofit, Ogburn went on to talk about how the board uses that money to assist other organizations, including expanding a mental health program sponsored by the Community Medical Clinic of Kershaw County from North Central High School to Camden and Lugoff-Elgin high schools.
“My vision is to do this project right, do it to fit this community and to do in conjunction with you folks, our customers so that, one day … with the help of John Barber and White Oak, we can be bringing in some money for this community and with the other projects that we do -- with retirement homes, with the assisted living, we can bringing in more money. I can see a day, 10 years down the road, where this board can be handing out $2 million a year across this county … to make this county a healthier place to live,” Ogburn said.
He concluded his remarks by thanking Preserve Camden’s Woody Cleveland and Joe Sullivan for “enthusiastically” supporting that vision and hosting Friday evening’s meeting.
As Ogburn fielded questions from those gathered, he noted that the idea of the retirement community component was a “big possibility,” but would need to hire professionals to help them determine how many units could be sustained and in what configurations.
“I don’t want to be run out of this county with products that are only 50 percent full,” he said. “We know we’ll have a good draw with the nursing home -- that gives us an advantage over others in the community … so, we’re not blindly going to do any of this.”
Several people brought up the fact that Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Communities, which once looked at Beechwood as a possible site, has facilities built pretty much on the same principle being forwarded as Ogburn’s. One woman mentioned that Still Hopes has hired hundreds of home health professionals to work with its residents and that it may be something the HSDKC should look into replicating.
Another woman asked about possibly partnering with a man from Charleston who had proposed an idea for Beechwood along these lines. Sullivan said that man had retired, but that Preserve Camden has access to his work and had passed it along to Ogburn and his colleagues.
“We’re going to work with them to try to make it happen that way,” Sullivan said.
In answering a question regarding costs to potential patients and clients, Barber said White Oak was “not going to price care out … without good justification for it.” He also said there also used to be a class of patients that would stay in hospitals 10 years ago for things that are now performed as outpatients.
“You go get a hip or knee replacement, they’re doing that outpatient and you skip the nursing home altogether and go home and get home care, which is what everybody wants. I would want that, but that’s not the patients we take care of,” Barber said.
Several people, some of whom identified themselves as Preserve Camden members, expressed excitement with the plans, but urged the preservation of the Beechwood home, with one member stating that doing so would add to the HSKDC’s “brand.”
“I’m going to try hard to convince the board to spend the money to preserve that house. First of all, I think the community would be extremely disappointed with us if we tore that house down,” he said. “Secondly, I think if we headed in that direction, it would dampen the enthusiasm that I feel from the people I encounter around this community about what the project is.”
One thing Ogburn was adamant about was maintaining local control over not only the Karesh Wing, but anything the board decides to do at Beechwood.
“This is just my personal opinion, but I think we can partner with anybody we need to partner with that brings the financials to table if we need them, but I’m not going to vote to invite any partner to come in unless we retain 51 percent ownership,” Ogburn said, explaining that if the board does decide to get into the assisted living business, it would have someone -- either White Oak or a similar company -- to run it for them.
He also mentioned that all current Karesh employees would transfer over to the new facility along with likely around 45 new hires.
Ogburn’s wife, Kathryn, asked whether a nondenominational chapel could be constructed at Beechwood with local pastors rotating duties.
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” her husband answered.
Ogburn also said that one of the reasons the board is moving ahead with certain aspects of the project now is to be able to install infrastructure that will accommodate the full master plan.
“That may depend on how, financially, we decide to move forward,” he said. “We have bonding capacity; we can issue bonds for the nursing home if we want to … and then we would look and say, ‘What’s the next piece? The next piece for me would be the assisted living part.”
Ogburn and Barber said it would cost between $20 million to $25 million to build the new Karesh Wing. Barber also said that a decision on the exact semi-private to private room ratio had yet to be determined, but thought it would be made within the next two months. He said White Oak’s new facility in Spartanburg includes about 40 percent out of 132 rooms as private.
“We haven’t made that decision (here) for a good reason. We need input from you all and maybe do a little bit more study,” Barber said, adding that outpatient surgery could be part of what is offered at the nursing home, as well as something similar to the home health component offered at Still Hopes. “You could have a physician’s clinic on site. You could do the chapel -- I love the chapel thing.”
Ogburn again brought up needing to be mindful of the ultimate density at Beechwood. He also, in answering another question, said he could see golf cart paths created to link Karesh and other components not only to each other, but the wider, neighboring community.
As the meeting ended, Ogburn said he hoped everyone would remember that his is an open door to come and talk to him about the project.