Hospital funding becomes complex

ASHEBORO — The good news is that Randolph Hospital is operating and patient care is ongoing.

But sorting out the financial picture under new ownership remains complex, a task that has been addressed in an ongoing manner by Randolph County commissioners.

The State of North Carolina is a lender of a $12 million loan, though it’s up to commissioners to administer that grant. At last week’s monthly board meeting, chairman of the board of commissioners Darrell Frye said there’s still fact-finding taking place with the new owners.

“So far, proper documentation requested has not been forthcoming. It’s too early to say that it’s a problem,” Frye said. “We’re not going to provide a dollar until we have our security because it is on the taxpayer of Randolph County to repay this.”

Even with that, Frye and many of his colleagues have offered an encouraging tone regarding the hospital despite a saga that has lasted more than 2 ½ years and has included bankruptcy and the severing of ownership ties with Cone Health.

Randolph Hospital’s new owner is American Healthcare Systems, a transaction that officially took place July 1. The 145-bed facility has Tim Ford as the new CEO of what’s called Randolph Health.

AHS has requested an advance of $3 million in order to replace outdated equipment and what has been described as maintaining an efficient operation during this transition period.

There are several factors involved, including the intention of AHS to conduct a for-profit operation.

As of late last week, 60 beds were in use and the emergency room was functioning.

“The doors are open,” Frye said. “They’ve been open. The employees should be confident. We lost some employees, but employees should be confident.”

Yet on the financial side, it’s not so clear. Frye calls it a “tangled mess,” noting that AHS is handicapped to a degree in the process. It could be up to six months before all the kinks are worked out, he said.

“The buyer of the hospital needs some money,” Frye said, something he has repeated as one of the latest themes.

Commissioner Kenny Kidd said the value of sustainable local health has been at the center of the episode for a few years. So, with AHS in place, that’s viewed as a positive step.

“The commissioners are breathing a sigh of relief that that got done,” Kidd said. “There have been so many chapters there.”

As part of the agreement, Cone Hospital will build a new cancer center within 10 miles of current hospital. The for-profit status means the loss of Medicaid discounts.

“There are so many moving parts in this thing and so much of it we can’t control,” Frye said.

What the commissioners did last week is approve borrowing money from state of North Carolina, approved an agreement with AHS and approved an ordinance to establish a separate budget strictly to deal with Randolph Hospital.

“Right now, we have no financial exposure,” Frye said. “Our exposure comes if that hospital closes again.”

Frye, who’s a former board member of High Point Regional Hospital, and commissioner David Allen, the vice chair of the county board, have met with the new ownership group.

Commissioner Maxton McDowell had several questions during the county meeting.

“The fact that it’s kind of an up-in-the-air situation day to day,” McDowell said in summary.

A bankruptcy hearing in early June set some of the terms as the final transaction neared. Among the arrangements, Mike Miller was appointed temporary CEO until July 1. 

“I know Randolph Health and the current challenges it faces,” Miller said at the time. “I’m dedicated to working alongside the staff and ensuring that providing high-quality care remains a top priority.”

With a population of about 145,000, commissioners have stressed a need for Randolph County to have a hospital. Data provided by Frye shows that Randolph EMS delivered about 10,000 patients to the hospital in Asheboro in a year-long period prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

The facility operated under Cone for about a decade. The 16 months of bankruptcy created countless questions, though the hospital never closed.

Without a hospital, emergency calls likely would cause Randolph County patients to be transported to High Point, Greensboro, Winston-Salem or Chapel Hill – meaning the passing of life-threatening minutes.

A new hospital board will consist of 13 seats. The county commissioners approved Frye and Allen to fill the two slots reserved for its group. The mayor of Asheboro will have a spot as well.

“It has been a work in progress and it still is,” Frye said. “Every time we think it’s clear sailing ahead, we get another storm.”

By Bob Sutton

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