The Medical University of South Carolina's Board of Trustees approved the purchase of community hospitals in four rural counties Monday night following a discussion in a meeting not open to the public.

It is the first time MUSC has acquired other hospitals in its history. No dollar figures were discussed. Financing will still need to be approved by the State Fiscal Accountability Authority.

The four hospitals to be bought are each owned by Community Health Systems, which operates about 115 hospitals across 20 states. The ones being sold to MUSC include Springs Memorial Hospital in Lancaster; Chester Regional Medical Center in Chester; and Carolinas Hospital System outposts in Mullins and Florence. A resolution authorizing the sale states MUSC would also buy clinics and other services attached to the hospitals.

Together, the four hospitals in total have 715 beds, according to information from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. By comparison, the downtown MUSC Medical Center has 713 beds.

Dr. David Cole, president of MUSC, said in a statement the hospitals are part of the organization's "emerging MUSC Health network."

“The additions will increase the size and scale of the MUSC Health network, and in today’s environment, larger, more efficient health care systems can deliver greater value to patients and have a positive impact on population health,” Charles Schulze, chairman of the board, said in a prepared statement.

The hospitals lie in Marion, Florence, Chester and Lancaster counties — areas where lawmakers and hospital administrators alike have been searching for ways to keep facilities open even as rural hospitals are forced to close their doors.

Joshua Baker, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, told The Post and Courier in August a handful of the state's rural hospitals are on the cusp of consolidation.

South Carolina agency to try to save rural hospitals from closing

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Hospitals across the nation have been closing at a rate of about 30 per year, according to the American Hospital Association.

On Monday night during the specially called meeting, the board members voted to "enter into a proposed asset purchase agreement" to buy "the assets of certain hospitals and other medical facilities" in those counties. MUSC leaders were not immediately available for interview following the meeting. 

Almost simultaneously to the board's decision, for-profit Community Health Systems released the news that they had officially agreed to sell the four hospitals to the Medical University Hospital Authority. According to their most recent quarterly report, the company has been selling some of their holdings when possible. Financial disclosures show they have divested or agreed to sell at least 14 other hospitals in 2018. 

Community Health Systems also agreed to sell Mary Black Health System facilities in Spartanburg and Gaffney earlier this year. The hospitals are not "complementary to our business strategy," the company's management wrote to its investors.

A motion to approve the purchases passed unanimously. 

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.