A photo of a building that's home to Washington Regional Medical Center
Photo credit: Washington Regional Medical Center.

By Liora Engel-Smith

An eastern North Carolina hospital that’s entangled in bankruptcy proceedings remains in limbo, despite plans to have it sold by the end of January, court documents show.

A draft purchase agreement for Washington Regional Medical Center, a 25-bed facility in Plymouth, spells out that Affinity Health Partners, the company that currently manages the hospital, would buy the rural facility for $3.5 million. The agreement, filed with the United States Bankruptcy Court at the Eastern District of North Carolina, also stipulates that the Texas-based firm will invest more than $1 million in the hospital and make plans to replace Washington Regional’s aging facility following the purchase.

But as of Monday, Affinity had not yet signed the agreement. Affinity CEO Frank Avignone has not returned numerous phone calls and emails seeking comment on reasons for the delay.

A court hearing on the purchase is slated for March 11, documents show.

In court last month, Avignone said he was confident he’d have the funds to purchase the hospital by Jan. 31, though he did not provide the court with proof that he could or would make the purchase. Avignone said at the hearing that private investors who wished to remain anonymous would finance the purchase.

Washington Regional Purchase Agreement (Text)
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The hospital has been entangled in court proceedings since last February, when the current owner, HMC/CAH, filed for bankruptcy on it and several other rural hospitals out of state. The court appointed an attorney from Winston-Salem, Thomas Waldrep Jr., to oversee the properties through the proceedings. Waldrep, in turn, hired Affinity to manage Washington Regional.

In an email Monday, Waldrep said that Affinity needed more time to buy Washington Regional. He did not respond to a follow-up email seeking additional details on the reasons for the delay, but when asked about the likelihood of the sale going through by March, Waldrep said it is “likely.”

A local economic force in turmoil

Since bankruptcy proceedings began, Washington Regional and the economically depressed community it serves endured a temporary closure of the hospital and two missed payroll payments to more than 90 employees. At the time, Avignone blamed the lapse in payroll to a holdup with Medicare billing. He said the hospital made subsequent payroll payments on time.

The Plymouth hospital, which according to the purchase agreement owes Washington County more than $70,000 in property taxes as of January, is a major economic force in the rural community.

Washington County Manager Curtis Potter said on Monday that the county has yet to see proof that Affinity has the funds to purchase the hospital, which was owned by the county until 2007. The county, he previously said, has an interest in Washington Regional succeeding in private ownership. If the hospital closes, ownership of the building would revert to the county, and the public entity may not be able to support a fully functioning facility on its dime.

“I’m frustrated at the lack of information in terms of trying to figure out what the holdup is,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

But he added that the longer the delay drags on, he “begins to worry that this might actually not go through.”

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Liora Engel-Smith joined NC Health News in July 2019 and covers policies, programs and issues that affect rural areas. She has previously worked for the The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire and the Muscatine...

One reply on “Troubled Eastern North Carolina hospital has not yet sold”

  1. I was the employee that completed a billing process through an idea that I had to continue revenue flowing for the WRMC in Plymouth, NC. and, for it’s employee’s to continue to work. I loved my job and the hospital employees. They are dedicated professionals with a heart for patient care.

    In December, when employees did not get paid, I was unsure about many of the emails that had been sent and where the money was going. Although, it was blamed on a hold up on Medicare payments; Medicare reimbursements always slow down during that time of the year. So in retrospect I do not believe that was the only reason money slowed.
    The billing company is outsourced, a company in Texas that had been working to complete billing. For some reason in January the process did not suit the owner and she began asking her personnel to ask for Information that had been sent previously which was making it hard on myself and my staff . I sent a email to the owner and her constituents asking why I was sending information two and three times, no answer was provided. When it happened again I sent a response to her stating not to continue to try my patience. I was immediately written up on. Friday at 4:30 in the afternoon and refused to sign, because I felt it should have been a verbal warning which I would have been happy to accept. I was also told I would be on 30 days probation. On Monday, I went in and worked all day. At 4:30 and I was called in to the HR office. Corporate or the Management Company was on the phone. I was asked questions and answered them then, I was told to stop talking at that point I felt like I could not stay in a call that I was being treated with no respect. I left the call and received 2 days suspension without pay. I then came back on Thursday worked all day and at 5pm I was fired.

    The company used my idea and added a check off list to it to make the billing company’s life easier, so basically I was no longer needed. Although, the idea is my intellectual property.

    I am writing this because I am concerned about the people who work there and the many who have gone through all turmoil of the past management companies.

    Point being, that the management company has made promises it has not kept. It has only a manual process billing , which I created and no EMR, which needed to happen before any improvements to the hospital. We have been on diversion many times for Radiology, Cardiology due to non payment and lack of supplies for lab and for equipment problems.

    Continue to be enlightened by CAH that need good management companies and that are invested in their employees.
    I am not sure this Management company is a good fit for this hospital and for the employees.

    Thank you for your article.

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