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Who should operate a new hospital in Buncombe County? The public weighs in this week.

Buncombe Acute Care Hospital Certificate of  Need applications released in June
Buncombe Acute Care Hospital Certificate of Need applications released in June

State health officials will be in Asheville this week to get the public’s input on who should operate an acute care hospital that will be built in Buncombe County.

The N.C. 2022 State Medical Facilities Plan, released earlier this year by the NC Department of Health and Human Services (Division of Health Service Regulation) determined Buncombe, Graham, Madison and Yancey counties will have a projected need of 67 additional acute care beds by 2024.

Three healthcare systems are in the running:

Florida-based nonprofit AdventHealth which operates a hospital in Hendersonville.

Nashville-based HCA Healthcare which operates Mission Hospital System. HCA purchased the system in 2019.

Winston Salem-based Novant Health, which operates hospitals in parts of center North Carolina and in South Carolina.

You can find all three proposed plans here

North Carolina’s Attorney General has raised objections about one application. In July, AG Josh Steinsent a letterto the Department of Health and Human Services asking NCDHHS to deny Mission’s Certificate of Need application.

“Currently, Mission has almost no competition for acute care in Buncombe County. The lack of competition is the result of Mission’s unique history. Mission effectively operated as a legislatively authorized monopoly for over twenty years, and no new hospitals have opened even after Mission’s arrangement with the State ended in 2016. This lack of competition harms residents of western North Carolina by increasing the cost, and reducing the quality, of health care services in the region. Awarding Mission this Certificate of Need would exacerbate the lack of competition and resulting harm. Accordingly, the Department should deny Mission’s application and instead approve an application from a qualified competitor.”

In an emailed statement, Mission Health Spokesperson Nancy Lindell responded:

“While we are not aligned with the opinion expressed in the AG Office’s letter, we are confident the NC Department of Health and Human Services will evaluate our application based on the state’s most recent Medical Facilities Plan, which detailed the need for 67 additional acute care beds. We are proud of our high-quality care and the significant investments we have made to expand access to healthcare, none of which were opposed by the AG’s office. Mission Health has responded to the growing medical needs of Western North Carolina by adding a new behavioral hospital, building a new wing and pediatric ER at Mission Hospital, constructing a new replacement hospital in Franklin and expanding capacity at Mission Hospital McDowell.”

Stein’s letter mirrored core allegations stated in two lawsuits against HCA Healthcare filed in federal court this summer by local governments.

A joint class-action lawsuit was filed against HCA by the City of Asheville and Buncombe County the same week Stein’s letter was released. June, ,the City of Brevard filed a similar lawsuit. Last August, a tthird hird lawsuit was filed by a group of WNC residents in Buncombe County Superior Court.

A public hearing on the Certificate of Need applications is scheduled for Friday, August 12 at 9:30 a.m. in the Ferguson Building at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. You can find out more about the application and review process here.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
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