By Allison Trussell
GREENVILLE—The Methodist Oaks can be sold to a for-profit company after the South Carolina Annual Conference approved a resolution.
During the Report of the Chancellor, Kay Crowe talked briefly about the resolution that Cathy Jamieson, Cabinet secretary, would bring before the body June 6.
The resolution authorizing the sale was approved by a large majority of the Annual Conference.
Specifically, the resolution states that “two officers of the current Board of the Methodist Oaks be authorized and empowered to direct and execute any documents needed to undergo the due diligence requested by the Potential Purchaser, to negotiate a sale of the Property and to enter into documents conveying the Property.” The sale of the property would require a 2/3 majority vote by the full Board of The Methodist Oaks, the bishop and the Cabinet.
The Methodist Oaks has struggled financially for many years despite efforts to reduce overhead and expenses. “The financial condition of The Methodist Oaks has caused it to incur monthly operating deficits averaging $125,000 for the past six months and its situation is so dire that it may be unable to have sufficient funding to continue operations until the closing,” read the resolution. Crowe stated that the current deficit was about $17 million.
There was criticism of the Oaks Board of Trustees, the Cabinet and the bishop over the situation. Many delegates were unaware the of the financial straits the home is finding itself in.
Will Shelton, a delegate from the Winthrop Wesley Foundation and self-described “poor graduate student” thought $17 million was a lot of money and wondered why it was just being brought before the conference. “Concern for this property appears to have been brought up for the first time this year. There must be other properties that may be in this situation. … I hope we’ll have better oversight of other trusts we hold.”
The Rev. Bob Huggins, pastor of Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church, Pomaria, echoed the sentiment. “We need some accountability in this conference and leadership from the bishop, Cabinet and trustees. … It appalls me that we continue to cover up financial fiduciary problems within this conference. … This money could have been used for so many people. We are wasting money in this conference.”
Andy Cox, CEO of The Oaks, noted that this was not an overnight event. “Some of this is normal debt that you’d have in any business, typical mortgages and leases. Some of the debt has been accumulated through recent financial losses (in the stock market). Our annual budget is $22 million. This is a large and complex operation.” He also noted that the recent changes in the health care programs including Medicaid and Medicare had contributed to the situation.
The Rev. Ron Petit, former Orangeburg District superintendent, noted that the financial struggles have been brought before at least three bishops and multiple directors. “This resolution protects the residents and workers and relieves us of liability,” he said in favor of the resolution.
Many questioned what the sale would mean to the residents. Cox said the intent was to continue all services as they currently are. The potential buyer will be under the same constraints we are, he said.. “Some of what we do is based on market factors; other things are limited to what Medicare and Medicaid will reimburse us for.” Cox expects current residents will be able to remain there.
Current residents “are selected not by their income, but by their affiliation with the church,” said Dennis Gordon of St. Mark’s UMC, Sumter. He warned that a for-profit company won’t have that standard. “The people who will be there will be those who can afford it, not those who may need it the most. … It’s about the money.”
The Rev. Meredith Dark, chaplain at The Oaks, said the decision had not been made lightly and she had faith the ministry would continue, encouraging individuals and nearby congregations to volunteer and visit the residents.
Prior to the vote, called for by Roy Copeland, Union UMC, Irmo, Jamieson reminded the body that the resolution had been previously approved by the home’s Board of Trustees and by the bishop and Cabinet.
The resolution was approved.