Archived Opinion

Doing business with your neighbors

op barbeeIn not every town do the children of doctors and lawyers go to the same schools as the children of teachers and mill workers, but in Haywood County, that’s the case. When I was teaching full-time in the classroom, I taught students whose parents owned boats and vacation homes, and I taught students who slept in a car and ate meals at The Open Door.

In Haywood County, there aren’t the “private school kids” and the “public school kids.” They are all kids in our community. I love that our schools are melting pots of all socio-economic echelons. I think it offers intangible lessons and character development non-existent at schools where the population is very homogenous. 

Several of our close friends are medical practitioners at Haywood Regional Medical Center (HRMC). Those with children have told me they love our school system and are very happy with the opportunities it offers their children. These friends of ours eat in local restaurants, shop at locally-owned stores and are valued members of their respective churches. 

Yet, many Haywood County residents still drive to Asheville for hospital care. Unless you have only lived here a couple of years, you probably remember the debacle that occurred with HRMC back in 2008. After an unannounced audit, the hospital was considered out of compliance in regard to standard of care requirements. The hospital was given 23 days to correct the issues. 

When the audit team returned, they felt the hospital had not made sufficient changes. Shortly thereafter, HRMC lost Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement. This was a massive blow considering Medicare and Medicaid accounted for more than half of HRMC’s patient volume and nearly 70 percent of hospital revenue. Within days, Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealthcare, and others suspended HRMC from their networks or allowed the facility to withdraw. 

In the few years following, the hospital struggled to survive. I remember the county’s fight to hang on to HRMC as a non-profit, community-driven hospital. And while it’s nostalgic and sentimental to think of HRMC as a hospital with humble beginnings dating back to the early 1920s that grew into a thriving medical center, HRMC was part of a dying breed. Very few hospitals of its kind even existed anymore. 

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The hospital needed major help to survive. It needed financial assistance and significant leadership changes, which it received through a series of events that included Duke LifePoint purchasing HRMC. Reputable doctors and surgeons remained on staff while young, progressive colleagues joined them. Updates have been made to the facilitaties, innovative equipment has been acquired, standards and regulations have tightened, and a new reputation is beginning to develop. 

But in my mind, that old mindset is lingering longer than warranted, and there are still too many people making comments like, 

“You had your baby at Haywood? Why didn’t you go to Mission?”

“It’s worth driving to Asheville for that procedure.”

“Don’t go to Haywood’s ER. It’s a madhouse.”

I’m thinking these folks haven’t actually been to HRMC in quite some time, if ever. 

I visited the ER twice in 2015 after two separate car accidents that were no fault of my own. Both times I felt extremely well taken care of. The first time I was wheeled on a stretcher into a room and didn’t make any observations, but after the second wreck, I rode in a car to the hospital and consciously thought about how organized and efficient the front desk and waiting area were. 

During the first ER visit, my 2-year old child was with me, and the ER staff went above and beyond to calm him and make him comfortable. A friend of mine had the same experience recently when her little boy broke his arm and visited the ER. 

Further, with two of our close friends being on HRMC’s surgical team, I see firsthand how much they care about their patients, their job and their hospital. I observe how brilliant and kind they are and hear them talk of modern, cutting-edge surgical practices. They spend hours working on patients but somehow find energy to be great fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, friends and community members. 

I think it’s time we as a community once again wrap our arms around our local hospital. Thank you to those who already have. The hospital team is investing everything they have into our community, so shouldn’t we do the same for them?  It is Haywood County where HRMC’s doctors and nurses want to live and thrive, raise and school their children, where they want to shop and dine, where they want to devote their time, money and intellect. 

If you are a person who still holds a grudge toward the hospital because of incidents that occurred almost a decade ago, maybe it’s time for a change of heart. As the saying goes, “Invest in those who invest in you.”

(Susanna Barbee is a writer who lives in Haywood County. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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