'A momentous occasion': MUSC Health, Orangeburg hospital celebrate new relationship

March 03, 2023
A smiling man in a suit, bowtie and glasses laughs with a woman who is also wearing glasses and a black and white blouse. They look like they are celebrating.
Dr. David Zaas, CEO of the Charleston division of MUSC Health, shares a laugh with state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter in Orangeburg. Photos by Sarah Pack

Surgeon Lucius Craig, M.D., chief of the medical staff at what was the Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg, is happy that it’s now part of MUSC Health. “This is going to improve care in this area for today and for our children's grandchildren, in this area. That is amazing, and we're all a part of that,” Craig said at a ceremony marking the occasion.

“This is a part of history. Local and county officials, and also the state legislators, saw the importance of the role that this hospital plays in the delivery of care in this area and in South Carolina. To that effect, we explored options for an affiliation with a larger health care system. Ultimately, we determined that MUSC will be the most beneficial option.”

Surgeon in a blue suit and glasses smiles while he's speaking at a podium. 
Dr. Lucius Craig speaks at a celebration of a new agreement between MUSC Health and the Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg.

The Regional Medical Center and MUSC Health reached a long-term lease and operations agreement, announced on March 1. The goal is to improve research and access to health care in rural areas and communities that don’t have enough medical options. MUSC Health will run not only the Orangeburg hospital but also an Emergency Department in Barnwell and clinics serving patients in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg counties.

Many speakers at the celebration credited the deal to the efforts of state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. She’d been worried about the hospital’s financial well-being and future and was thrilled to see it join MUSC Health. 

A group of women wearing navy uniforms sits in white chairs at a table eating and talking. 
Former Regional Medical Center employees who now work for MUSC Health listen to speakers at the celebration and enjoy food, drinks and new bags with the MUSC Health logo. The bags were among several items given out at the celebration.

“Do y'all know that less than 10 months ago, this proviso, y'all, was inserted into the state budget, suggesting to MUSC that they create this partnership? And Lord, here we are less than a year later,” Cobb-Hunter told the crowd gathered in a tent on the Orangeburg hospital’s campus.

The partnership was also welcome news to James Lemon, D.M.D., chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Medical University of South Carolina, for personal reasons. “My hometown Barnwell, South Carolina, is 35 miles from here. So this area is very close to my heart. I've been treated in this hospital. It is close to many of you today, and this is a momentous occasion for those of us who have lived here and live here,” he said.

A row of well dressed people looking forward. 
Board of Trustees members from the former Regional Medical Center listen during the celebration. They were recognized for their role in making the agreement with MUSC Health possible.

“We have a higher purpose as our state's only comprehensive academic health system. It's a great privilege, duty and responsibility to the citizens of South Carolina to deliver outstanding – outstanding – health care, educate future health care providers, and through research, we must help increase and improve the health and wellness of our entire state.”

A fellow MUSC Board of Trustees member, Barbara Johnson-Williams, spoke as well. She lives in Orangeburg, sometimes called “the Garden City.” It’s home to between 12,000 and 13,000 people and has two well-known college campuses: Claflin University and South Carolina State University as well as Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

“This community deserves respect, compassion, collaboration, integrity and innovation. And at its core, these values are what drive MUSC forward and make necessary advances, changes and improvement in local care delivery,” she said.

View from the back of the room as a man in a suit speaks at podium. 
State Sen. Vernon Stephens speaks about the improving health care conditions in the Orangeburg area.

“I'm thrilled that as a result of this new relationship, our community is going to have health care, as it's so richly deserved, right here in our backyard with an unprecedented level of connectivity to the highest specialized care that MUSC is known for.”

State Rep. Russell Ott was equally jubilant, calling the event a historic celebration. State Sen. Vernon Stephens drove the point home, praising the fact that rural health care is improving in quality and becoming more accessible and affordable.

“When you look at the Regional Medical Center and where we were and where we should have been and where we are going, you can only say, ‘Thank God,’ for he has truly smiled down upon us. And it is our day; it is our day to be excited about living in rural South Carolina,” Stephens said.

Group of women in green hospital scrubs laughing. 
Hospital employees still in their scrubs drop by to hear the speakers at the celebration.

MUSC President David Cole, M.D., emphasized the value of having good care close to home. “We know that strong health care facilities are often at the heart of a community's long-term success. My belief is together we'll be able to ensure the health care and well-being of this community and be an asset for the economic growth and the economic future. I have high confidence that we will succeed as we continue to move forward. This new relationship today is a key first step.”

MUSC Health CEO Patrick Cawley, M.D., described what the relationship will mean for the Orangeburg hospital and its affiliated clinics. “First, we're going to recruit more physicians, more nurses, more allied health workers to meet specific community needs most effectively. Second of all, we'll develop and apply best practices to improve care delivery and to decrease health disparities. Third of all, we'll look at implementing and expanding telehealth services and use technology to enhance quality, safety and access to care,” Cawley said.

“It also means offering health care providers and clinical staff training and skilled development opportunities. It also means establishing future graduate medical education opportunities, which is important for MUSC.”

Cole later toured the Orangeburg hospital with chief operating officer Sabrina Robinson. She said she’s excited about the changes coming to her campus. One key change sprang to mind. “Access. Access for our patients, bringing them back home. Bringing our employees back home. Employees and patients both leave the market. So we’ll be able to care for them here.”

Woman on left in navy hospital scrubs speaks to two men in suits and a woman wearing a green dress. They are all smiling. 
Radiation therapist Harriet French talks with Dr. David Zaas, Dr. David Cole and Cole's wife, Kathy, during a tour of the Orangeburg hospital's cancer center.

Employees on hand for the celebration enjoyed snacks and got MUSC Health bags and other gifts to mark their new affiliation. That included certified nursing assistant Rosalind Curry. “I think it’s going to be an awesome time. I think it’s going to be really good,” she said.

Crystal Frazier, an onboarding coordinator in Human Resources, said the agreement means new ways of working. “I like it. It’s so different from what we had. The programs, the process of onboarding and orientation. Systems also.”

Craig, the surgeon who led the celebration, said the new ways are welcome. “This is a win-win for this community and also for MUSC.” 

Get the Latest MUSC News

Get more stories about what's happening at MUSC, delivered straight to your inbox.