Gaston commissioners to consider proposed revised lease with CaroMont Health for hospital

Gaston County commissioners on Tuesday will consider a proposed revised lease with CaroMont Health for the local hospital, a divisive issue for years.

CaroMont Health is the parent company of CaroMont Regional Medical Center, a private, nonprofit hospital. With nearly 4,000 employees, CaroMont is the largest employer in Gaston County.

Commissioners have long believed the tax-exempt hospital should pay more than the current $1 a year to lease the buildings and land. Discussions and negotiations between the commission and CaroMont Health have been ongoing for more than a decade.

Under the proposed revision, the county would get $800,000 a year and CaroMont would also contribute $450,000 annually in community health promotion and the development of active lifestyle options.

The agreement would be for 40 years with the option to renew for one additional 40-year term. The CaroMont Health board of directors and Gaston commissioners would share governance and appointments to the CaroMont board. Currently, commissioners make all but one of the appointments.

The right to make business decisions on financing and joint venture arrangements would be transferred from county commissioners to the CaroMont Health board of directors.

Over the next decade, CaroMont Health would spend $200 million improving the campus, with local contractors and construction workers if possible.

Commissioner Jason Williams supports the lease proposal, saying it will “prepare our community hospital for the effects of health care reform while giving access to much needed capital for expansion and redevelopment of the county’s campus.”

“This agreement would provide stability that would ensure we have high-quality health care in Gaston County for decades to come without giving up local control and autonomy,” Williams said. “Our community deserves leadership that is primarily concerned with the health and wellness of our community. Both county and hospital leadership are to be commended for putting the citizens first with this proposal.”

Commissioner Chad Brown also favors the agreement.

“I support it 100 percent,” he said. “It’s a good deal for the citizens of Gaston County.”

Calling CaroMont Health “top-notch,” Brown said “we couldn’t be happier with the provider we have.”

County Commissioner Tom Keigher had reservations about the proposal.

“I’m very pleased in the direction we’re moving in,” he said. “But I need to look into each item. It’s a little confusing. I’m not sure what it means.”

He said the board will have an outside lawyer look at the proposal.

Doug Luckett, president and CEO of CaroMont Health, said in a release that the financial contributions from the agreement “will help support education, spur economic development in the county and fund needed health services, among other projects and functions. We see this as an investment in the future of Gaston County and its citizens.”

Last year, Luckett accepted an offer from the CaroMont board of directors to become president and chief operating officer. He’d been appointed interim CEO after CaroMont Health’s president and chief operating officer Randall Kelley was fired after the hospital adopted a marketing slogan, “Cheat Death,” that was later dropped.

Luckett called the lease proposal “a positive stop for CaroMont Health and Gaston County.”

Gaston County commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Gaston County Courthouse, 325 N. Marietta St., Gastonia.