WASHINGTON COUNTY, NC (WITN) - Washington County is putting a plan into place to reopen the Washington County Hospital within the next month, according to the county manager.
Local community members said it has been inconvenient having to drive to other counties for care, but many hope the hospital will return with high quality care.
The hospital closed in February and has since declared bankruptcy. County officials now say the hospital could reopen within the next two or three weeks.
An attorney is handling the hospital's assets as a trustee and has opened the Plymouth Primary Care Clinic on the hospital's campus. Now the attorney is working on a plan to open the rest of the departments.
Washington County residents say that could make a big difference for some who are having to travel more than 30 miles for care.
"People can be like real injured or like near to death and just to get taken care of they have to go so far and they could end up losing their life," Ke'ziah Gray said.
Others worry about the quality of care when the hospital reopens.
"If they can't provide the services that they need to, we might just be better off to go to Greenville or somewhere else," Jim Howell said.
The proposed plan to open the hospital would also include back pay for current and former employees, but the county is still searching for funds to make those payments.
Current and former employees should learn more specifics about getting their back pay by March 15th, the county manager said.
Washington County has plan to pay current and former Washington County Hospital (WCH) employees all back pay owed and to reopen hospital within 2-3 weeks, according to County Manager Curtis Potter.
In recognizing the hardships on employees who have worked without pay, the county manager said, via news release, that the county is in the process of attempting to locate additional funding sources with which to meet these payroll obligations.
Although no specific date given to pay employees, they anticipate monies ideally be paid before, and as part of, the overall restoration of operations at the hospital.
Current and former employees should know specifics of getting their back pay within 14 days from today, March 1, 2019.
Over the past week, the county manager said Commercial Bankruptcy and Healthcare Attorney, Thomas Waldrep, Jr., Who was named Interim Trustee last week, has been successful in obtaining control over the main hospital accounts and assets. Adding, he has also established communications with and cooperation from both the hospital’s former corporate management company EmpowerHMS, as well as its current corporate management company Ihealthcare, Inc.
Ihealthcare, Inc. was in the process of acquiring the hospital management duties and assets when the bankruptcy action was filed.
Currently, CAH Acquisition Company #1, LLC contests Washington County’s position that legal ownership of the hospital has reverted to the county by operation of law pursuant to its Right of Reverter. If all parties can't agree, the issue will be settled in bankruptcy court.
In the interim, the Washington County Manager said, both the county and Ihealthcare, Inc. are committed to and continuing to work closely with the Trustee to help try to organize and facilitate a restoration of operations at the hospital as quickly as possible in the mutual best interests of all parties, and of the general public.
The Trustee has already authorized the continued operation of the Plymouth Primary Care Clinic (Dr. Robert Venable) located adjacent to the hospital on the hospital campus, and the clinic is open and operating at this time.
Waldrep is also evaluating a plan for continued operations of the remainder of the hospital including lab services, radiology, limited inpatient care, and the emergency department.
No specific timeline is available for the finalization of the plan, or for its ultimate approval, but they say, all parties involved are hopeful that normal hospital operations can be restored within the next two to three weeks.
The bankruptcy code does not permit the Trustee to pay any debts including wages to hospital employees that were incurred and owing prior to the filing of the bankruptcy on February 19th, 2019, The Trustee is however authorized to immediately reinstate and pay payroll obligations for employees who continue to work under the Trustee at the hospital.
A bankruptcy judge in Raleigh Friday approved Washington County's selection of an interim trustee to handle matters related to the closed Washington County Hospital.
Former bankruptcy judge Thomas W. Waldrep, Jr. has been tapped to take on that role.
Washington County says Waldrep is experienced with medical related commercial bankruptcy proceedings and assisted with the forced bankruptcy and eventual sale of the Morehead Memorial Hospital in Eden, NC to the UNC Healthcare system.
Walderp's appointment will enable the county and other creditors to begin to work with the trustee to move more quickly to identify and preserve the hospital's assets and also potentially enable the continuation of certain operations which may still be viable to provide during the pending bankruptcy process such as the continuation of primary practice health care services, radiology and lab services.
Washington County is also continuing to pursue methods to assist the WCH employees whose payroll obligations have still not been met at this point, as well as leads with interested entities that may be able to assist in operating the facility now or in the future.
Following an emergency meeting, Washington County Hospital (WCH) is now heading toward bankruptcy. WCH stopped treating patients last Thursday and the county has since started the process of regaining ownership of the property.
Now, Bungee chords and tarp shield a hospital sign to highway traffic because Washington County Hospital stopped treating patients last Thursday and attribute the shutdown to finances.
Officials say, most recently those financial issues meant employees started missing paychecks. Friday marks four weeks without a payday.
Washington County Manager Curtis Potter said, "There are quite a few concerns but obviously the largest are healthcare and economic impact."
Monday night during an emergency meeting, commissioners took steps to regain ownership of the property and force the hospital to file for bankruptcy.
"All available options are being pursued to understand which of those options will be best for Washington county," added Potter.
In the meantime citizens won't see any changes in EMS services. EMS is owned and directly controlled by the county government. This means first responders can continue to treat and transport patients to the closest appropriate medical facility.
The county manager said, "We have great staff and contingency plans in place to make sure any addition resources we need to continue to serve our citizens will be brought in and made available."
Washington County Commissioners unanimously passed a motion to authorize the county manager to move forward with filing the involuntary bankruptcy chapter 7 filing for Washington County Hospital (WCH).
According to commissioners, Washington County is a creditor and as such, voting for the filing is within their rights.
Commissioners made a motion to send the WCH ownership a letter stating the county is enforcing the Reverter Clause in the deed, which means the real property and building comes back to the county.
This clause specifies that the current owner/company would own the property only so long as for hospital purposes. If the land should ever cease to be used for such hospital purposes, then the title thereto shall immediately revert to the previous owner.
Washington County is expected to release additional information Tuesday in a news release detailing specific actions.
As of 10:00 Thursday, the Washington County Hospital in Plymouth is not able to offer any medical services.
In a public service announcement released Thursday night, the county manager/attorney Curtis Potter said this is a "full diversion" and say they hope this will be temporary and brief.
Potter said they are seeking information from hospital management to fully understand the issues and actively engaging with multiple state agencies and legal counsel.
The hospital has not been owned by Washington County Government since 2007.
County leaders want to reassure its citizens that Emergency Medical Services (EMS) will continue.
EMS is owned and controlled directly by Washington county government and will continue to treat, stabilize and transport all emergencies to the closest appropriate medical facility.
The county manager asks residents to remain calm and to not react to the news of this diversion.
Anyone with a medical emergency should call 911.
Hospital CEO Melanie Perry also issued the following statement to the community:
As of 10:00 pm on February 14, 2019, it is with great sadness that WCH has made the decision to temporarily suspend clinical services. At this time the ER is shut down and no clinical services of any kind are being rendered until further notice.
The staff at WCH has been very diligent in their efforts to avoid this temporary shutdown; however, in order to provide safe care to our community, this decision had to be made.
At WCH we have weathered many storms, but this is one that we were not able to overcome especially with so many variables working against us. We do not want to jeopardize the care or safety of our community, thus this decision is in the best interest of everyone although we expect this suspension to be temporary.
Access to medical records will still be available and the FRONT doors will be open during regular business hours which are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. The Rural Health Clinic will continue to function during regular business hours as well; however, no clinical services will be rendered at the hospital.
Once most of the variables have been satisfied, the ER will reopen and services will be restored to the community.
If you develop the need for medical attention, please continue to call 911.
It has been an honor and privilege to serve the Washington County community and its citizens.
Melanie Perry, CEO