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Loss of transparency likely for Haywood under new hospital joint venture

Haywood Regional Medical Center and WestCare are in the final stages of forming a partnership, with plans to launch a new joint venture as early as January.

The two entities will join forces under a new umbrella organization with a single CEO and new board of directors. While daily operations will be merged, the arrangement stops short of a full merger with the assets and long-term balance sheets remaining separate.

Haywood County Commissioner Mark Swanger questioned how the interests of the public will be safeguarded under a new joint venture.

Currently, Haywood Regional is a public hospital. The public and media are allowed to attend hospital board meetings, and finances, policies and nearly all its records are open. The new joint entity will be a private nonprofit, however, entitling the public to only very limited disclosure about operations.

Swanger said the new entity won’t be required to operate in a transparent manner, and thus the public’s vested interest in Haywood Regional could be thwarted.

Swanger expressed his concerns at a county commissioner meeting this week, which was attended by Mark Clasby, chairman of the HRMC board.

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Swanger suggested a slot for a county commissioner should be a reserved on the new governing body.

“Has there been thought of having a county commissioner serve on that board to ensure our county government and citizens have as much transparency as possible?” Swanger asked Clasby.

Swanger said he wants to see a stipulation guaranteeing a Haywood County commissioner a seat on the joint operating board written into the bylaws.

“While I don’t doubt the motives of anyone involved in this now, 10 years from now we will have an entirely different cast of characters, so to count on the trust issue is not good business in my view,” Swanger said. “I think a commissioner seat needs to be part of the operating agreement so the citizens who have the financial investment in the physical plant of Haywood Regional are properly represented.”

Swanger asked Clasby to deliver the suggestion to the rest of the hospital board. The current hospital board will continue to exist once the new entity is formed, but which decisions will lie with the Haywood Regional board versus the new joint operation board has not been stipulated.

The new joint board will have 14 members: seven appointed by Haywood Regional and seven appointed by WestCare. County commissioners appoint the members of the Haywood Regional board, which in turn will appoint members to the joint operating committee, giving commissioners a small, albeit twice-removed, measure of control.

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