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Franklin board holds off on hospital purchase input

Franklin residents protest last spring after Mission Health announced it would be closing labor and delivery at Angel Medical Center. Residents are now worried about the impact HCA’s purchase of Mission will have on their community hospital. File photo Franklin residents protest last spring after Mission Health announced it would be closing labor and delivery at Angel Medical Center. Residents are now worried about the impact HCA’s purchase of Mission will have on their community hospital. File photo

Franklin Town Council members decided to hold off on providing input to the attorney general regarding HCA Healthcare’s impending $1.5 billion purchase of Mission Health until the board can agree on what it wants to say.

Mayor Bob Scott presented the board with a drafted resolution at its Sept. 4 meeting to send to Attorney General Josh Stein that laid out conditions under which the town would support the purchase, but not all council members agreed on the wording. 

The resolution stated that the sales agreement must be made available for public review in sufficient time to ensure public input during the attorney general’s regulatory review process. 

Secondly, the sales agreement must specify that if HCA or a successor owner decides to stop operating Angel Medical Center in Franklin as an acute care hospital after the protected time period ends, the hospital must be returned to the community at no cost. 

Lastly, Dogwood Health Trust board — which will receive the proceeds from the sell — must be independent from Mission and HCA and broadly represent the region and the people it will serve. The resolution states that Mission should hire an independent firm to select members of the foundation board.

Council members Brandon McMahan and David Culpepper made a motion and a second to approve the resolution for the sake of opening it up for discussion. 

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“I know we’re charged with making decisions for residents, but I don’t know how the town or how I feel about this,” said Councilmember Joe Collins, a former board member of AMC. 

He added that he wasn’t sure about the idea of asking that the hospital be given back to the community in the event HCA ever wanted to close or sell the facility. Now that the purchase agreement will go to Stein for review and approval, Collins said anyone from Franklin could provide feedback to the attorney general’s office regarding the sale. 

“I don’t think it’s up to us to speak for the town on this issue — residents have the right to comment on it. I’m not comfortable with it (the resolution).”

Town Attorney John Henning Jr. said a resolution was not binding but that he didn’t have any legal concerns about the board providing input on the issue. 

“It would shock me if they turned over the hospital to us, but I don’t know if there’s any harm in the town taking a position if you feel motivated to do it,” he said. 

Scott said he had spoken to Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor and many local residents who were concerned about the purchase of their Mission-affiliated hospitals by a for-profit corporation.

“We’re just asking the attorney general to look at it and stand up for the public,” Scott said. “We just have a lot of questions — what happens to the current hospital building? How can we possibly attract people to Franklin if we don’t have an acute care facility?”

Mission announced last year that it would build a new Angel Medical Center to replace the aging facility in Franklin. HCA has agreed to continue with plans for the new building, which will be constructed along U.S. 441 and is committed to maintaining the acute care facility for a minimum of 10 years. However, nothing has been said about what will happen to the current facility in the heart of town. Mission also announced last year the closure of labor and delivery at Angel, which spurred public outcry in Macon County and distrust in Mission. 

“We have no voice in this whatsoever — we’re asking the attorney general to do his job and be our voice. We don’t have labor and delivery. That has long-term effects on everyone in this town,” Scott said.

Culpepper said he had many of the same concerns, especially after a recent response he received from Karen Gorby, president and chief nursing officer of AMC, last time she was in front of the board. When asked if she could be objective and tell the board about any possible down sides to the HCA purchase.

“She said there was no down side at all — I can’t imagine that being true,” he said. “I certainly want the attorney general to really look at this and not just rubber stamp it.”

However, Culpepper added he’d be more comfortable if the resolution simply asked the attorney general to look at it closely and ask for input on the Dogwood Health Trust board appointments. 

“I think we may lose credence if we demand giving the hospital back to us if they close it,” he said. “I don’t want it to close, but I want this to be taken seriously by Mission, HCA and the attorney general.”

Councilmember Dinah Mashburn said the attorney general has been entrusted to do his job and review the agreement to ensure it’s in the best interest of the people. 

“This resolution won’t put anything else upon him. My main thing is whether we like this or whether we don’t, they pulled labor and delivery and they could pull the whole hospital out from under this,” she said. “I’m not in the hospital business and we need to let them deal with this.”

Scott disagreed, saying that the town needs to speak up and try to preserve the hospital for its residents and for the future of Franklin. He reminded the board that it was the community members who spoke up in the 1970s and saved the hospital by raising money. 

“I have asked for HCA to come talk to us and they won’t — I’ve asked them to come talk about rural health care or their long range plans,” he said. “I helped raise money in ‘71 to save the hospital and I’m at the age I know darn good and well I’m going to need it.”

Culpepper said there’s nothing wrong with reminding the attorney general that the community saved the hospital before and wants more transparency throughout this purchase process. 

The board agreed to work on rewording the resolution without the stipulation that the hospital must be given back to the community if HCA decides to close it or sell it. 

The issue will be brought back up at the council’s October meeting. 

Watch the entire town board meeting at www.maconmedia.com.

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