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Keeping commissioner on hospital board lends accountability

The joint board that will run the eventual Haywood Regional Medical Center-WestCare affiliation needs to have a sitting Haywood County commissioner as a permanent member, as one Haywood County commissioner is now suggesting.

Commissioner Mark Swanger worries that the interest of Haywood County’s citizens — who own the buildings and property at HRMC — could be compromised if a commissioner is not on the new joint board. HRMC now operates as a public hospital, and most of its dealings are subjected to the state’s open meetings laws. The new venture with Carolina’s HealthCare System will form a private nonprofit, entitling citizens to very little knowledge about the decisionmaking process.

Swanger’s reasoning makes good sense: “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 counting on the trust issue is not good business in my view. I think a commissioner needs to be part of the operating agreement so the citizens who have the financial investment in the physical plant of Haywood Regional are property represented.”

There’s little doubt among those who have been following the affiliation of WestCare and HRMC that the board members from both hospitals are working with the best interests of their communities at heart. The driving force here is to provide three communities — Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties — with stronger, better delivery of health care services for many years into the future.

What if, however, some kind of cataclysm occurs at Carolina’s HealthCare and its smaller entities become expendable or begin to be treated as mere profit centers for certain types of specialized care rather than as stand-alone hospitals? Or if a future CEO from Charlotte begins to make decisions without regard to citizens in this region?

The kind of scenario described above is not likely to occur, and we would hope that the board members from this region — whomever they are — would stand up for our citizens. But county commissioners — and most elected officials — typically operate from a different mindset because at any monthly meeting they face reminders that they serve the public’s interest, whether it is someone complaining about taxes or a neighborhood group seeking help about barking dogs disrupting the peace.

This one is easy. Citizens in Haywood County — and those of Jackson and Swain, for that matter — would have another measure of confidence in this affiliation if a county commissioner gets a seat at the table.

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