An Interview with ECH CEO Brandon Clary

ECH “Doing Better Than Just Surviving”

– By Tiffani Ireland –

​The Advertiser met Monday, June 9, for an interview with Edgefield County Hospital CEO Brandon Clary to talk about the current state of the hospital and plans for its future. Built in 1972, Clary called this 25 bed critical access hospital “crucially important” to Edgefield County. He reminded that not only do many citizens rely on the entity for quality healthcare, but the hospital also supports the county through jobs and the promotion of property values. ECH is a “big piece of the economic puzzle for the entire economic development of the county,” Clary said noting that ECH employs nearly 180 jobs, 120 of which are fulltime. Clary further noted that the hospital operates on a $9 million payroll; that is nearly equal to the entire operating budget of Edgefield County. And while they are subsidized by the county (according to the hospital’s 2013 audit, property taxes contributed $503,244 to the facility), Clary pointed out that EMS gets double the money from the county for operation than ECH. “What we get from the county doesn’t cover a 2 week payroll,” Clary stated in showing, relationally, the amount of tax payers dollars that go to toward the funding of the facility. Conceding that not all Edgefield County residents utilize the facility, Clary said that because of its importance in terms of both healthcare and economics, Edgefield County citizens, even if they do not use the facility, should “rally for ECH.”

​Having just celebrated his first year with ECH, Clary said, as for as the state of hospital, “[I] don’t think you could ask for a better year.” However, Clary did agree the year has been marked with “hard decisions” but that those decisions have helped get the hospital on the firm financial ground on which it now rests. Not laying blame or wishing to rehash past administrations, Clary simply said that when he came to ECH, “It was bleeding severely.” Clary reminded that in February of 2013, prior to his assumption of CEO, ECH was out of cash and had to drain its escrow account in order to make payroll. Upon taking the helm in April of 2013, Clary said his priorities for the hospital were “stop the bleeding, right the ship, save everybody’s jobs, break even for the fiscal year, and get plans for growth together.” To stop the bleeding and right the ship, one of the first things Clary did was cut overtime which he characterized as “excessive.” “I had to stop the bleeding,” Clary said and added it was either cut overtime or implement layoffs. As a result of the cutback on overtime, however, layoffs were averted. And while the overtime cuts helped save jobs and the hospital, Clary admitted it was a tough change and an unpopular decision. However, Clary said he could understand the unpopularity and the difficulty associated with this decision to cut overtime especially given the fact that employees may have fixed their own budgets relying on these extra hours and extra pay. However, because of this and other “operational changes”, ECH saw a $1.1 million operational turn around from Sept. 2013 to April 2014 as compared to the same time frame the year before. “For us to be doing better is a good thing,” Clary said, especially, as he noted, during a time when many rural hospitals are struggling to survive. “[ECH is] doing better than just surviving,” Clary stated. Not content that we merely take his word on that assertion, however, Clary shared a recent personal email received from Amy B. Martin, Dr.PH, Associate Professor (Research Track) with the Department of Health Services, Policy and Management, Deputy Director, SC Rural Health Research Center, Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. After a recent visit to ECH, Dr. Martin commended Clary and ECH saying “your facility is well managed and positioned to navigate the uncertain times the industry finds itself.” She went on to say the “financial performance improvement activities you have engaged in are clearly making a difference.” Dr. Martin said that because of this, “I will recommend to the SC Office of Rural Health that they consider documenting your work (financial improvement strategies) as a best practice for other CAHs.”

On firm footing now, and evidently a role model for other rural hospitals, what does the future hold for ECH? Clary said currently the hospital is in the middle of a re-facing – evident by the downed trees and hay covering the front lawn – which he hopes to see completed in the near future. This re-facing will include updated signage that will incorporate the hospital’s affiliation with University Hospital of Augusta, Georgia, as well as new logo and landscaping for the grounds. Clary also said the hospital would like to eventually open a satellite facility in the Merriwether Community similar to its satellite center, Peachtree Medical Center, in Ridge Spring. (It should be noted that while ECH does employ Peachtree Medical Center is does not employ or operate the Edgefield Medical Clinic.) While not setting a definite time frame on this expansion of the hospital’s services, Clary did say he would like to see ECH’s growth into the Merriwether area happen “as soon as possible.”

One does not have to wait for the future to see evidence of growth from ECH, however. As pointed out by Clary, the hospital has recently added services such as a sleep study center, otolaryngology services, and an ophthalmologist. To see this continued growth, though, Clary said, “We have to stay focused.” That focus may involve yet more changes and hard decisions for the hospital. And while he knows change is hard, Clary said he “will continue to make the hard decisions for the good of the hospital.”