Asheville Watchdog Investigating HCA/ Mission Hospital - TribPapers

Asheville Watchdog Investigating HCA/ Mission Hospital

The new hospital wing at Mission Hospital.

Asheville – The Leadership Asheville Forum held a free virtual forum on Wednesday, October 27th. It featured two of Asheville Watchdog’s veteran reporters, Peter Lewis and Barbara Durr, talking about their investigation of HCA/Mission Hospital. This forum regularly provides monthly public forums on issues critical to the well-being of the Asheville-Buncombe County community.

A Little Background

The sale of Mission Health to HCA Healthcare was finalized on February 1, 2019. It was sold as a nonprofit to a for-profit company. This is still a highly controversial sale a nonprofit hospital remains a hot topic amongst residents. Many patients are highly disappointed in the depreciating care since HCA’s acquisition. Even internally, doctors have left HCA Healthcare in droves. Asheville Watchdog reports that the hospital has become the most expensive hospital in North Carolina for many of its procedures, with prices often doubling the state average. The secrecy surrounding the purchase has been compounded by nondisclosure acts signed by all involved that are ad infinitum including the Board of Governors. This only adds fuel to the fiery controversy surrounding this sale. All meetings leading up to the sale were held in secret. Mission’s lawyers contend that al-though Mission Health was a public charity, it was technically a private foundation that was not subject to state open meetings or public record laws. This point is highly debatable.

During the forum it was mentioned that 14 doctors from the Transylvania Regional Hospital had left abruptly. The Brevard City Council then sent a letter to the North Carolina Attorney General’s office asking for an independent review from the state. One write-up in the Watchdog news alert, found on their website, mentions that Parker Platt and Mark Wein-stein quit the Board of Transylvania Hospital in September saying “we fear for its future” under HCA. Furthermore, they added, “they were “embarrassed” to have supported the sale of the Mission Health System to HCA Healthcare and that they now fear for the future of the Brevard-based community hospital under HCA’s profit-driven management.

Attendees Voice Complaints

Later on, viewers voiced ongoing patient complaints they had experienced or heard. They wondered what they could do about them? Examples were: robes worn by the patients had not been washed, bed linens were not being replenished, floors in many rooms were not routinely sterilized. The nurses were being overworked and fatigued to respond to calls for assistance. Karen Sanders, a patient advocate, who was an attendee told the viewers to telephone 1-800-624-3004,which is the NC Division of Health Service Regulation and Healthcare Personnel Investigations Section. Calls made to this number between 9 -12pm and 1-4 pm will speak to alive person, and the report will be recorded then passed on for further investigation.

Dogwood Health Trust

Dogwood Health Trust was established on May 16, 2018 as an independent foundation. The $2 billion healthcare foundation is currently governed by an interim CEO, Susan Mims, MD, and a Board of Directors, who serve as volunteers, a. As a partner and collaborator across the18-county region, Dogwood engages primarily in grantmaking as well as convening nonprofits and collaborating with local, state and national experts who work to improve overall health and wellbeing across communities.
Over many decades, the people of Asheville and surrounding communities invested in the nonprofit Mission Health, mainly by allowing it to skip paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes over the years. Everyone “invested” in Mission by paying higher taxes to makeup for the taxes that Mission didn’t pay. State law requires the attorney general to make sure the public investment is preserved in the event that a nonprofit is sold to a for-profit company.
In this case, Attorney General Josh Stein approved the sale. For-profit HCA paid $1.5 billion to acquire all of Mission’s assets. The money — the return on the public’s investment —was used to fund a new non-profit charity called Dogwood Health Trust, which is based here in Asheville. Every foundation is legally obliged to grant out 5% of their total assets annually. In Dogwood’s case the assets, which began with $1.5billion from the Mission sale, have now grown to $2 billion making them legally obliged to grant out $100 million — towards improving the health and well-being for everyone in the18 counties of western North Carolina.
The executives and directors of Mission Health said that although Mission accepted community support as a public charity, it was legally a private foundation that had no obligation to answer the public’s questions about details of how and why the surprise deal with HCA came about.
Similarly, the Dogwood Health Trust that received all the money from the Mission sale insists that it has no obligation to tell the public the details of how it was formed by Mission board members during negotiations for the sale of Mission to HCA, about who man-ages the $1.5 billion (now $2billion) in money from the sale, or about the mysterious departure of its CEO. The reporters at Asheville Watchdog believe the former Mission leaders and the current Dogwood’s leaders — some of whom are the same people —have a civic, if not legal, obligation to be transparent about how the sale to HCA was con-ducted. It’s clear they don’t want anyone to find out — ever —whether the people of Western North Carolina got a good deal in the sale to HCA or if they got bamboozled in a horrible deal. The reporters at Asheville Watchdog believe strongly that the public has a right to know and continue to demand more information.

Peter H. Lewis

Asheville Watchdog

Asheville Watchdog is a small nonprofit, nonpartisan team comprised of professional journalists who provide free, in-depth reporting to local news outlets in Western North Carolina. It started in December, 2019, with many highly regarded journalists, who recently moved to this area. Collectively they grappled with the realization that there was an erosion of truth within journalism and thus a crisis for democracy. Newspapers in the past gave high quality news, but as costs and expenses were cut, and re-porters let go, the public was no longer receiving accurate facts, upon which critical analysis could be properly formed. These journalists lamented the media landscape and wanted to “do something,” forming the Asheville Watchdog. Peter Lewis and Barbara Durr, two acclaimed reporters, ad-dressed the Asheville Forum and answered questions following their presentations. Lewis was a former writer and editor at the New York Times, and senior editor of Fortune Magazine amongst many other positions. Durr was a former correspondent for the Financial Times of London and a former editor for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered. “Serious questions remain concerning HCA/Mission Hospital. Although Asheville Watch-dog, as a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization, is not allowed to participate in any political or substantial lobbying activity, it has been investigating the results of the sale and informing the public of its findings. Why has there been so much upheaval by so many doctors, patients, and staff since the sale? Why was the sale conducted with so much secrecy? What was the motivation for signing these non-disclosure agreements? Why did the City and County, and even the Attorney General allow this? Moreover, can anything be done to bring back quality health care to this region? For the betterment of those living in Western North Carolina these questions re-main to be answered, and answered truthfully.
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