The Medical University of South Carolina's health system plans to take over The Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg and its affiliated clinics. It will become the 15th hospital in MUSC's system.
MUSC's board of trustees approved a letter of intent for the arrangement Feb. 10.
MUSC will have a long-term lease and operations agreement with the Orangeburg hospital, which is owned by Orangeburg and Calhoun counties but also operates a large Emergency Medical Center in Bamberg County. Final details of the agreement and some regulatory approvals are still being finalized, MUSC said.
County officials and state legislators have been in talks with MUSC about some type of arrangement since last summer about taking over the health care system which took a hit during the pandemic, said Dr. Patrick Cawley, CEO of MUSC Health.
"They were coming out of COVID struggling," he said. "That’s not uncommon. There are a lot of hospitals in the nation struggling after COVID."
Last year was the worst year financially for hospitals since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with about half of U.S. hospitals in the red financially at the end of the year due to rising expenses outstripping revenues, according to a survey by analyst firm Kaufman Hall.
The connection began with more informal talks about how MUSC could help, and the two sides were encouraged to work together for research and to improve access to care by a proviso passed last year by the S.C. Legislature. But as MUSC got to know the hospital and community better "we agreed — both sides — that it would better for MUSC to take a more formal role and (for the medical center to) really become part of the MUSC family," Cawley said.
"Regional Medical Center has cared for this community for over a hundred years and partnering with MUSC Health confirms our commitment to the patients we serve," Dr. Lucius Craig, chair of the medical center's board, said in a statement.
The plan is to work with the Orangeburg health system's current administration on a path forward, Cawley said.
"Whenever MUSC has welcomed a new hospital to our family we work with the current team and we develop plans for the future," he said. "And then begin to make them part of MUSC."
The Orangeburg system has about 100 doctors and in addition to the large Emergency Medical Center in Bamberg has dozens of outpatient offices throughout the counties, Cawley said.
For patients, it means that services will continue but "we’ll bring new services to the counties, we’ll being new technology to the counties and more than likely you’ll be able to stay in those counties for your care, rather than travel somewhere else," he said.