Inquiry by NC Attorney General provides insight of Martin General Hospital troubles prior to closure

Inquiry by NC Attorney General provides insight of Martin General Hospital troubles prior to closure
Published: Oct. 18, 2023 at 1:24 PM EDT
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WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WITN) - Seeking to determine if Quorum Health was meeting its statutory obligations to operate Martin General Hospital, Martin County enlisted the help of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein last year to get those answers.

The information Quorum provided gives insight into the financial struggles they were having for years, and an acknowledgement that it had failed to provide required annual compliance reports for the past five years.

The letter from the attorney general’s office was sent in September of 2022. A month later, Quorum, the parent company of Williamston Hospital Corporation, which operated the hospital, responded saying it believed they were operating in compliance with a state statute that regulates the lease or sale of hospitals.

But they also made clear that the hospital they took over in 2016 was in financial trouble, stating, “Martin General has been unprofitable for years, and its unprofitability is only accelerating due to increasing labor costs and declining patient volumes. As a result, Quorum has attempted over the past five years to find a new hospital provider for the community.”

Quorum says it spoke with several local and regional providers with no luck. They also say Affinity Health, which operates Washington Regional Medical Center, made a presentation regarding its plan for the hospital, but the county indicated it did not wish to partner with Affinity. Quorum says it discussed transferring the assets of the hospital back to Martin County and terminating the lease, but said they had not reached a final agreement.

When it comes to labor costs, Quorum said it had difficulty hiring nurses and was forced to rely on contract nurses, which drove up the cost of staffing contract nurses to unprecedented levels.

The health provider said, “It is an unfortunate reality that there are too few qualified nurses in the service area and that most nurses graduating from nursing schools are not seeking employment in rural areas with declining populations, such as Martin County.”

In regard to that declining population, Quorum said, “The current average daily census at the hospital in both 2020 and 2021 was less than 10.”

As far as filing required compliance reports, Quorom responded, “WHC and Quorum can find no evidence that the annual compliance report required by N.C. Gen. Stat. 131E-13(a)(5) has been prepared by WHC in the last five years, or that such a report was ever created during the life of the lease. Martin County has never requested that WHC provide it with such a report. This failure is the result of an oversight by WHC and it is currently working to create an annual report that complies with the statute.”

The responses provided by Quorum to the attorney general about the financial difficulties and efforts to try and find a new provider for the hospital or transfer it back to the county came ten months before they ultimately just shut the doors.