Discussion diminishes fears of HCA

Concerns about the Hospital Corporation of America’s acquisition of Mission Health and how it will affect HC Hospital have been downgraded a bit now that the Town Board has met with members of the HC Hospital Foundation Board face-to-face.

At the September Town Board meeting, Mayor Pat Taylor requested permission to send the NC Attorney General a letter in conjunction with a resolution outlining the town’s concerns about the future of HC Hospital. Taylor wants the AG to know of the town’s concerns before the final decision is made.

However, at the urging of HC Foundation Chair Dr. Walter Clarke, the two boards met Sept. 27 to clear the air first.

After listening to the board’s spokesperson Sam Lucas, who sits on the foundation board, the hospital operating board and the new Dogwood Trust Foundation board, it is clear he is and will continue to be the watchdog concerning the best interests of the HC Hospital and thereby its future.

“The way you have presented your position tonight encourages us to have a lot of faith and trust in you where you can personally flip the coin one way or the other,” said Commissioner John Dotson, who was initially opposed to waiting to send the resolution and didn’t believe Mission had been forthcoming about the sale.

According to his presentation, Lucas has been involved every step along the way and actually had a hand in making sure the Foundation Board got $15 million from Mission after the sale – initially the amount was going to be less.

Lucas said he understands the HCA acquisition and the Dogwood Trust means the community is losing the emotional attachment to the hospital; something it has supported for so long.

But he said something had to be done because HC Hospital wasn’t sustainable. Before going with HCA, several healthcare entities were vetted including Duke Lifepoint, Carolina Health Systems, NE Georgia Health Systems and others, but HCA was the only option that would be profitable and sustainable for the future of HC Hospital.

Lucas said the hospital suffers from having a seasonal population that doesn’t use the facility when it is here.

Commissioners said the community is afraid that HCA will pull out leaving a shell if HC Hospital isn’t profitable over the next 5-10 years.

Lucas said the Attorney General has the tail-end oversight when it comes to the Dogwood Trust which in turn oversees HCA’s operations so a decreasing bottom line wouldn’t be a surprise.

“After the local foundation is reorganized, funds can be used for things like an indigent care clinic which would keep people out of the Emergency Room which will immediately raise the bottom line at the hospital,” he said.

In addition, he said the Eckerd Living Center can actually grow the bottom line for a for-profit entity. “There is a lot of money in nursing homes,” he said.

“Furthermore, we have protections now which we didn’t have with Mission. The Dogwood Trust is the seller’s representative and has rights of oversight over HCA.”

He also suggested the local foundation take part of the $15 million and put it in a fund so it could purchase the hospital if necessary. But most importantly, there won’t be any “surprises.”

“The Dogwood Trust, the AG and the advisory board will know of a proposed sale if HCA can’t make it work. It will go to the highest bidder and we [the local foundation board] will be the highest bidder,” he said.

Lucas said it’s likely the future of healthcare in Highlands and Cashiers will change moving from an old-fashioned hospital with beds to a heath center model with more care provided at people’s homes.

But for the HC Hospital to be sustainable under the current environment, the AG will want to know everyone is putting their best foot forward, he said.

“He has to believe HCA and we have support from the community – that this is positive and not gloom and doom,” said Lucas.

– Kim Lewicki/Highlands Newspaper

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