UPDATED: WestCare hospital board weighs future of MedWest partnership

The Westcare Board of Directors met for more than four hours Tuesday, Aug. 7, to discuss the future of MedWest-Harris and MedWest-Swain hospitals.

The board did not take an official vote on whether to pull out of the MedWest partnership or whether to dissolve its ties with Medwest-Haywood. Instead, the board will remain study mode and reconvene toward the end of August to make a more conclusive decision.

Harris and Swain partnered with Haywood Regional Medical Center two and half years ago under the MedWest banner. However, doctors and hospital staff in Jackson County, and to some extent Swain County as well, have been unhappy with the affiliation.


Hospital leadership has been listening to their concerns with an open mind and recently has also began questioning whether WestCare would be better off pulling out of MedWest.

The 14-member board met for several hours Tuesday but had not come to a decision as of press time. Check www.smokymountainnes.com for any news coming out of the meeting.

“This will be every bit as big a decision as the decision to form MedWest,” said Mark Tyson, a WestCare board member from Swain County.

It is possible the WestCare board will have a robust discussion of the best course of action but will hold off on issuing a formal opinion on whether to stay in or get out.

It’s also possible the board could agree to a compromise — one that keeps MedWest intact but under a watered down version.

Steve Heatherly, the CEO of Harris and Swain hospitals, said the WestCare board has been “engaged in an ongoing dialogue about what organizational structure” is best for WestCare. As for decision day?

“I don’t know if Aug. 7 is a culminating point to that discussion,” Heatherly said prior to the meeting.

WestCare’s complaints included a loss of autonomy under MedWest, struggling finances and perceived second-fiddle status to Haywood’s hospital.

Heatherly said WestCare wants local management and local decision making authority, something it had initially lost under the MedWest partnership.

Dr. Henry Nathan, a gastroenterologist in Haywood and member of the MedWest-Haywood board, said the doctors in Haywood and Jackson counties think highly of each other and are committed to providing health care in their communities regardless of the ultimate corporate structure of their two hospitals.

“The medical staffs at each hospital are just so committed to the hospitals being successful and to do their mission, which is to take care of the patients in the community,” Nathan said.

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