Mayor on Duty

Houston, no I mean, “Mission we have a problem.” It is not simply at the Highlands Cashiers Hospital, nor just at Angel Medical Center, it is the entire system that HCA now owns and operates Western Carolina. The problem does not bode well for Western Carolina citizens.

It’s not just me, a little voice in the mountain wilderness, that is expressing concerns. At the recent round of meetings held by Gibbins Monitors, a letter of concerns about Mission HCA was signed and presented by a number of state representatives and county commissioners. The mayor of Asheville also signed the letter.

Their concerns centered about HCA aggressive costs cuts, a diminution of services, loss of staffing including reduction of CNAs and custodial workers, increases in nurse to patient ratios, and hidden fees and erroneous billing. There is now a Facebook page called Mission Maladies with over 2,000 followers.

My concern is that what happens with HCA in Asheville will impact the entire system including Highlands Cashiers Hospital. Our residents have been told for a number of years that while services like surgery can’t be sustained locally, those services would be available by way of transport to the larger units in the system. There will be a ripple effect throughout the system if the larger units decline in service and operation.

The people of Asheville, and for that matter the entire region, have always had confidence in the quality and achievements of their hospital system. Before the sale to HCA, folks were assured that Mission was in the top tier of national healthcare systems. With recent monitor meetings and community feedback, people are worried that may no longer be the case.

I stated at the Highlands monitor meeting held last month that I envision community partnerships with our HCA hospital that can advance area healthcare access. I am still committed, but there also needs to be a frank and honest assessment of the situation.

A recent article in the Highlands Newspaper had the headline, “Rape victims struggle to get services at HCA.” 

I have looked into the situation as it pertains to our hospital, Angel and Macon County. The Highlands Police Department has up to date Sexual Abuse Evidence Kits. They are used in collecting evidence in sexual abuse crimes, including rape. To collect the evidence, a Sexual Abuse Nurse Examiner (SANE) needs to do the procedure using the provided kit.

The problem is that we have no SANE nurses assigned to Angel Medical Center or Highlands Cashiers Hospital. A number of years ago that was not the case. We may have one SANE nurse residing in Macon County, but that nurse is assigned to a facility in another county.

Therefore, it is very likely a victim of sexual abuse would have to be transported to another facility, probably Asheville, where SANE nurses are available.

The situation is totally unacceptable. A victim of such a crime does not need the trauma of long waits and traveling long distances. I am certain HCA will work with law enforcement and the community in resolving this problem, as well as others.

I hope the community will work together with HCA on other initiatives also.

  • Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor

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