Some Greenville County legislators want Greenville Health System sold and the proceeds used for property tax relief, to buy new school buses, to pay for affordable housing in the city and county, for workforce development, and to address community needs and health.
A bill filed in the state House Thursday, Feb. 15, would amend the GHS board’s responsibilities to solely facilitating a sale of the health system’s assets in a competitive sealed bid process.
Six local state House members sponsored the bill — Republicans Dwight Loftis, Garry R. Smith, Ashley Trantham, Mike Burns, Bill Chumley, and Democrat Leola Robinson-Simpson. State Sen. William Timmons said identical legislation would be introduced in the Senate next week.
GHS spokeswoman Sandy Dees called the effort “the most recent attack on locally owned, not-for-profit health care” from a handful of local politicians.
“The best health care organizations are led by medical experts, not politicians,” said GHS spokeswoman Sandy Dees. “It’s time to put politics aside and let the physicians, nurses, caregivers, and local community leaders on our boards do what they do best — ensure the strongest health care future for the patients and communities we serve.”
“We will not let these latest actions distract us from what truly matters — our singular focus of providing high-quality health care for all members of the community. Protecting access to locally controlled, not-for-profit health care is essential to the well-being of our community,” she said.
The governance of GHS has been the subject of controversy since 2015, when the GHS board decided that the existing public nonprofit GHS would remain a property owner and lease the health system’s assets, but two private nonprofit organizations, the Strategic Coordinating Organization and the Upstate Affiliate Organization, would be formed to handle the health system’s planning and operations. Some legislative delegation members opposed the move, saying it would end government oversight of public assets, and filed a lawsuit. The state Supreme Court refused to take up the matter, but the lawsuit is still pending in the Greenville County Court of Common Pleas.
“If privatization is what you want, this is how you do it.” –Rep. Garry R. Smith
In an op-ed sent to the Greenville Journal, some members of the legislative delegation, including Smith and Timmons, said the delegation and GHS have worked together nine times since GHS’ creation in 1947 to adapt to the community’s changing needs.
“It is puzzling that this time would be different,” the letter said.
The letter went on to say, “In the last year, the GHS executives have attempted to justify their actions by claiming that the best way of providing high-quality patient health care in the future is to look to consolidation and privatization. The legislative delegation is in favor of this path if it is done the right way. To date, the GHS executives have yet to meaningfully work with the delegation on a legal path forward to make this possible. This is unacceptable.”
“If privatization is what you want, this is how you do it,” Smith said.
Timmons said government doesn’t need to own hospitals or power plants, referencing state-owned utility Santee Cooper’s involvement in the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project.
He said GHS governance is a major controversy that needs to be addressed.
“A number of individuals stole a government asset worth $3 billion, and that’s not OK,” he said. “It would be a dereliction of duty if we didn’t do anything.”
Legislators said they would expect $2 billion to $3 billion in proceeds from the sale. Debts incurred by GHS before the change in governance would be paid first. Under the bill, the rest of the proceeds would be divided in quarters and distributed to the state, the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, Greenville County, and a new nonprofit that would fund health-related needs in Greenville County.
The money would be used for
$40 million to buy school buses
$25 million to Greenville Technical College to create a scholarship to support workforce development, and an additional $5 million for the creation of a workforce reentry center
$10 million to the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services for STEM K-12 initiatives in Greenville County
Property tax relief for homeowners for five years
$50 million for affordable housing in the city and county
$10 million to the Greenville Area Development Corporation for developing and supporting minority-owned businesses
$5 million for construction of the Hampton Avenue bridge in Greenville
Additional money would go to Greenville County Schools and charter schools for support services for low-income students.