The Highlands-Cashiers Hospital workforce housing water and sewer request was turned down in a 4 to 1 vote at last Thursday’s town board meeting.
I know some folks are disappointed and think it is a major setback for the hospital. Others, like four of the town commissioners, may think differently.
I had concerns from the beginning. My primary concern was that HCA was unwilling to fund the project. It seems they were willing to do a land lease to some other entity that would fund, build, and operate the housing project designated for medical workers only.
Frankly, I would have been more supportive if HCA had indicated that the project was critical to hospital operations, and they were funding the project.
Some would counter that HCA has invested 4 million dollars this year in hospital upgrades.
HCA recently revealed they have made over a 200 million dollar commitment to capital upgrades to the entire Mission system. They plan to build a 68 million dollar new hospital in Franklin.
If HCA had requested water and sewer for building additions to their existing apartment complex, or for a new separate development, I would have been more supportive. For that matter, I am supportive of any business within the town that wants to build employee housing, provided zoning requirements are met.
I suspect the vote was driven in part by previous disappointments and setbacks.
The Chestnut Hill development was originally provided water as part of the hospital agreement. Some commissioners saw the current Chestnut Hill situation as a cautionary tale.
If there were another hospital sale, or even a closure, this proposed project could become a repeat situation.
When I became mayor some 7 years ago, the new Mission Hospital signs were going up, along with the hope of improved access and service. Soon thereafter, many people started thinking the opposite was happening, that services were being reduced and access meant going to Asheville.
A few years later, Cashiers and Highlands folks were told that they needed to build a first rate emergency department that would be consistent with other Mission facilities. 6 million dollars in local donations made that emergency department a reality in 2017.
In March of 2018, it was announced that Mission Healthcare was being sold to HCA. We were assured that the sale would be great for Cashiers and Highlands.
In all candor, the jury is still out concerning the sale of the hospital, as well as the Mission system.
There have been some problematic situations in the transition where outlying communities feel that healthcare access continues to be centralized in Asheville.
With that said, I suspect skepticism and unanswered questions drove Thursday’s vote.
There may be alternative solutions to hospital staffing and housing issues. I had a good conversation after the meeting with Tom Neal, the hospital CEO. He assured me that he and his staff will continue to serve and advance the medical needs of the community.
I made the commitment to Tom that I would do everything I could to support their efforts. Everyone can support the hospital by using their current services whenever possible.
There is information about meetings concerning the Highlands Community Plan on the town website.
I hope there is a strong turnout at these meetings. If you can’t attend a meeting, please complete the survey on the town website.
Click on the Highlands Community Plan. Citizen involvement is key to the plan. I encourage everyone to make the time to participate.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor