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From Mission Health To The Opioid Crisis: Looking Back On WNC Healthcare In 2019

Lilly Knoepp
Few issues have dominated the news in Western North Carolina as much as healthcare in 2019.

Few issues have dominated the news in Western North Carolina as much as healthcare in 2019.  BPR spoke with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein about the year’s events: 

Stein has been working with attorneys general from across the country to build a single framework for a $48 billion dollar financial settlement from pharmaceutical companies and distributors to pay for the effects of opioid crisis, which has hit Western North Carolina especially hard. 

“They made countless billions of dollars while Americans were getting addicted to these pills and I will insist that they help us clean it up,” says Stein, who has been fighting in support of the Affordable Care Act nationwide and for the expansion of Medicaid here in North Carolina. 

Stein also oversaw the completion of one of the largest health system sales in state history - for-profit HCA Health’s $1.5 billion dollar purchase of Mission Health.

The WNC community came together to push for regional protections. The SEARCH Committe and local mayors Bob Scott and Patrick Taylor were a big part of the effort. Both mayors were recently honored with the Dogwood Award for community service by the NC Department of Justice. 

The deal created the Dogwood Health Trust, which will spend the profits of the sale to improve the health of the 18 counties in Mission’s service area region. Much of Stein’s oversight of the sale focused on stipulations for Dogwood and diversity requirements for its board of directors. 

“I was very concerned.  I wanted to make sure the board represented the full diversity of the region - geographic, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic - all the diversity of Western North Carolina so that it didn’t just become an Asheville foundation,” says Stein. 

Dogwood confirmed that two board members from Buncombe County will step down at the end of the year, and two replacements will be named soon.

As part of the deal, Dogwood has promised $25 million to fight substance abuse over the next 5 years. Dogwood has also already opened two funds; one for immediate needs and another for help with grant applications called the Leverage Fund. 

This month, Buncombe County Health and Human Services (BCHHS) announced they used Dogwood’s Leverage Fund to secure a $275,000 grant. The NCDHHS grant will help high risk individuals exiting jail over the next three years. 

Western North Carolina in 2019 also saw the closure of another labor and delivery unit, this time in Murphy at Erlanger Western Carolina hospital. That makes the gap in women’s healthcare in the region even wider. Stein says he hopes HCA and Dogwood address this: 

 “Ensuring the healthy delivery of babies is a critical part of healthcare,” says Stein.  

Even though HCA is a for-profit system, Stein says they still have a responsibility to fill in regional healthcare gaps. He says Dogwood is likely to start 2020 by pick a few priorities to focus on first.