Mayor on Duty

Last week was a busy time. I attended two out of town meetings concerning the hospital.

I have been working with the town board and a small group of residents who are concerned about the impending hospital sale. We have networked with other groups in the region, SEARCH from Spruce Pine and COAH from Asheville. These groups are public advocates in regard to the sale of Mission to HCA which is under review by the N.C. Attorney General. We are the “other voices,” so to speak.

These folks, myself included, met with former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon last week in Asheville. Nixon has extensive experience in working with HCA and Blue Cross as the former governor and as a two-term attorney general. He had a public listening session in Asheville before meeting with the AG in Raleigh.

Governor Nixon told us that if done right this sale to HCA, as well as the creation of the Dogwood Health Trust, could have tremendous benefits for the people of Western Carolina. We all agreed, but critical parts of the process need to have an open and thorough review.

This coalition identified several concerns we wanted the Governor Nixon to present to the AG.  Let me summarize the key points.

Instead of Mission/HCA’s commitment to keep the small hospitals open for 5 years and emergency rooms open for 10, our position is to keep both the hospitals and emergency rooms open for 10 years. Also, our group wants the AG to support the position that no local hospital operating board can vote to suspend service or close facilities prior to that 10-year period. We also want a buy back provision if HCA were to close a local hospital. The coalition also believes the 15 million-dollar donations to the local hospital foundations should be free of any undue conditions or time frames by Mission.

Regarding the creation of the Dogwood Health Trust, several concerns were identified. First, the board of directors need to be a broad and diverse representation of the population covering the foundations’ 18 county service area. The current 9 member Dogwood board has a disproportionate number of former Mission representatives from mainly in the Buncombe County area. Under N.C. general statues Mission has to transfer profits from the sale to other nonprofit entities that are not connected whatsoever to forthcoming for-profit HCA/Mission system.

We also want the AG to require an oversight system that would monitor the conversion process and the creation of the health foundation for 5 years. In addition, we believe the new Dogwood Health Trust should be required to operate under of public meetings and open records requirements that government entities follow. An open policy will build public trust in Dogwood’s yearly grant awarding process to other nonprofit organizations.

I also had the opportunity to meet on Thursday with Chuck Hall, the CEO of HCA’s National Group. The Chair of the Macon County Commission, Jim Tate, was also at the meeting. Both Tate and Hall felt it was a good and positive exchange of information. Hall assured us that HCA was committed to keeping the Highlands Cashiers Hospital and Angel Medical Center open and moving forward as a part of the larger Western Carolina HCA network. I told Hall that I hoped that 10 years from now folks will look back at my concerns and say, “why was that old mayor so worried about the hospital, look how great it is doing now.”

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