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‘We need action’ Brevard Mayor explains HCA Healthcare lawsuit

Courtesy of Mission Health
Transylvania Regional Hospital is located in Brevard.

The City of Brevard is the latest to announce a lawsuit against HCA Healthcare, the Nashville-based corporation that bought the nonprofit Mission Health System in 2019. The federal lawsuit filed on June 3, alleges HCA engaged in a scheme to monopolize health care markets in seven counties in western North Carolina: Buncombe, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Transylvania, and Yancey.

A press release issued by the City of Brevard says the lawsuit further alleges that HCA’s actions have also harmed Brevard and its community by “making changes to charity care, performing and billing for unnecessary procedures, causing the loss of experienced and highly qualified physicians and other health care providers from the HCA system and reducing the availability of appointments for health care services.”

“Their predatory monopolistic practices are really hurting the ability of a community to get that affordable available and high-quality healthcare,” Brevard mayor Maureen Copelof told BPR.

Even before she became mayor, Copelof was vocal about the impact of the sale on the quality of healthcare in Transylvania County. When she was on city council, Copelof served as a community liaison during the quarterly meetings with Gibbins Advisors, the independent monitoring firm charged with overseeing HCA’s compliance with the terms of the hospital system’s purchase agreement.

“My role is really to be an advocate for the community. Healthcare is so critical for our community and our goal is to make sure that our regional hospital, Transylvania Regional Hospital, really continues to be a vital part of our community,” said Copelof in 2021.

In March, Copelof sent a letter to HCA’s CEO expressing a number of concerns at the hospital including the departure of physicians, cuts in staffing and other issues. That led to a May meeting between CEO Sam Hazen and Copelof along with other local leaders. Parties on both sides commented that the discussion went well and there was even talk about the formation of a community advisory group to address residents’ concerns.

“We did have a good, positive talk with Mr. Hazen, myself, and number of other people from the community,” said Copelof when asked about the meeting. “But I need action. It's more than just talk. We actually need to see significant changes and that's what's not happening.”

A statement by Nancy Lindell, director of media relations at Mission Health called the lawsuit “beyond disappointing.”

“Once we have been served with the lawsuit, we will respond appropriately through the legal process. We hoped that meeting would be the beginning of a thoughtful and ongoing dialog about healthcare in the City of Brevard and the broader Transylvania County region,” said Lindell in an email. “In fact, we provided information requested during the meeting and hosted our first Community Council meeting just this week. At no point did Mayor Copelof mention this apparently long-planned lawsuit, which is frustrating and undermines what we thought were sincere efforts to build open, constructive relationships and lines of communication. We will now turn our attention and efforts to vigorously defending the lawsuit, while continuing to provide excellent healthcare to the citizens of western North Carolina.”

In August, a class action lawsuit was filed against HCA in Buncombe County Superior Court stating allegations similar to the ones in the case filed by the City of Brevard.

“Well, we've been trying to get these issues resolved for over two years and frankly, it’s just time to get some solutions in place,” said Copelof. “We've tried, we’ve talked, we’ve written letters, we've held a town forum, we've asked HCA's upper management to come here and issues are still unresolved. And so, this is another way that we are attempting to get resolution of some very serious issues.”

A link to the filed complaint can be found here: https://bm.sharefile.com/d-s50aa33b557b74b00b085a798767c9de4.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.