We need to know more about HCA’s plans
By Bob Scott • Guest Columnist
The proposed Mission/HCA sale could be the most significant event — negative or positive — to affect Franklin and the region for decades. As Franklin’s mayor, I have a duty and obligation to see that our residents and visitors are not shortchanged in this $1.5 billion sale of Mission to HCA.
My hope since 1971 — when our community rallied behind Operation Heartbeat to buy the hospital from the Angel Family — was to see our hospital become a regional medical facility. Now that does not look as if it will happen.
But we can work to make sure we maintain what we have now and improve on it. Even that possibility is threatened if our non-profit hospital moves under the control of the huge, for-profit corporation Hospital Corporation of America, with a net income of $2.89 billion in 2016. The hospitals HCA currently owns are largely in metropolitan areas, and HCA has shown little interest in rural health care. They would be acquiring four rural hospitals in the deal, raising their total to 6 rural hospitals out of the 183 that they own or manage.
I am an old cynic, and when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. And, that is exactly what many of us in the WNC counties served by Mission are thinking. We are looking at all angles and sources concerning this deal. If we do not speak up, the North Carolina Attorney General will assume that we are OK with this sale as it stands. I worry that Mission has led the public to believe there is no downside to this sale. I do not buy that. Mission needs to be straightforward with the citizens of Western North Carolina and tell us about any negatives to the sale.
- As it is now established, there is no clear distinction between Mission Health and the Dogwood Health Trust board. I worry that the Dogwood HealthTrust board will not be independent of Mission and would have a conflict of interest in opposing decisions regarding Mission/HCA facilities.
- I’m concerned that if HCA is not living up to its agreement, the Dogwood Health Trust will not be able to stand up to Mission. In addition, under the sales agreement as currently written, any such disputes are mandated to go to arbitration or mediation in Delaware, never a jury trial.
- Why has Dogwood Health Trust, with the majority of members being from Buncombe County, not chosen any residents from Franklin or Highlands, since both have hospitals affected by this sale?
- The Dogwood Health Trust has promised $15 million each to six foundations connected to Mission-owned hospitals, but Angel Medical Center no longer has a foundation. Who will set it up, serve on its board, and decide how the foundation’s funds will be invested?
- I am concerned about the possibility that some of Angel’s employees might lose their jobs when a for-profit corporation takes over, answering to shareholders rather than the community.
- What will happen to the present hospital if the proposed “replacement” hospital is built? Will we have empty buildings or are there plans we know nothing about to repurpose them or to turn it over to another entity of some kind? What happens to all the equipment?
I have an obligation to the public to ask questions about this deal. Our town will suffer tremendously if we lose our hospital or more of the services we have now. Losing labor and delivery has been hard on our child-bearing residents. What could we lose next? Mission is telling us they will be more involved in telemedicine where specialists can be seen via television. Somehow, I just feel that is not the same as having medical folks lay hands on you. A television screen on a fevered brow just does not cut it with me. But it would be more profitable.
As mayor, I brought a resolution to the September 4 Town Council Meeting, but it was tabled with objections to the wording. Let’s not let it end there. As an area directly affected by this transfer of Angel to a for-profit, multi-billion-dollar corporation, we as citizens — and especially as elected officials — need to make our voices heard.
I dispute being told, in a recent meeting with Mission by a prominent member of the Angel Medical Center Board, that as an elected person I have no reason to be questioning this sale, which is a business decision, or something to that effect. Let me say that questioning things is why we elect people, to look out for the public’s interest.
Finally, let me assure our residents that I have nothing but the highest regard for the men and women of Angel Medical Center. If I get sick, I do not want to be sent away for care. Keep me here where I know the people who will be taking care of me in my community, unless I need critical/specialized care which can only be provided elsewhere. Mission fills that critical care over in Asheville. And does a darn good job at it!
This is the opinion of Mayor Bob Scott and may or may not reflect the views of all the members of the Franklin Town Council.