As Mission Health negotiates a deal for sale with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), one of the biggest concerns for the Western North Carolina community is the closure of small rural hospitals within the system from Franklin to Spruce Pine.
Mayor of Franklin Bob Scott and Mayor of Highlands Pat Taylor have both called for greater transparency from Mission and HCA during the current due diligence process. Mission has answered that call with Facebook Live panels to share finding from Mission representatives during visits to HCA locations and meetings with HCA officials.
So far no HCA representatives have been present in the panel discussions.
In the fourth presentation on the deal, Mission representative shared their experience visiting two rural HCA locations in central Tennessee that are a part of the TriStar Health system. The system is made up of 10 hospitals including a Centennial campus of specialized hospitals in Nashville.
The FB Live centered on the similarities between the Tennessee hospital system and Mission Health’s current system ranging from quality of care to rural access. For example, if someone at a rural location is acutely ill then they are often sent to the main campus in Nashville.
“They articulated that they tried to keep care close to home as much as possible,” says Kathy Guyette, senior VP of patient care services and president of regional member hospitals at Mission Health. “But clearly use that referral method into the Centennial campus when needed.”
Rebecca Carter, president and chief nursing officer at Blue Ridge Regional in Spruce Pine and Brian Barrow, Chief of Staff at Transylvania Regional Hospital seconded this observation.
They see this model as similar to the “wheel and spoke” of Mission Health’s of the main campus in Asheville operating as the center of the wheel to supports the surrounding 5 rural hospitals.
Guyette continued her reassurance by explaining that Mission would be an independent division from the HCA corporation.
One hospital they visited was rural Ashland City Medical Center which has only 25 beds. Carter explained that the hospital has remained open for 18 years through their partnership with HCA despite the fact that it will never be a money maker.
Carter explained that their director said that Ashland has been in the red most years.
“He said that they were not held to the expectation of the bottom line. They are held to the expectation that they serve the community,” says Carter.
A Facebook Live question brought up the national trend of rural hospitals closing asking: How can Mission guarantee that won’t happen with HCA?
Guyette explained that in the current conversations on the asset purchase agreement with HCA there is discussion of a clause that wouldn’t allow any closures for 5 years.
“We have no guarantees where we are today on our own,” says Guyette. “Without having a large support structure behind us, there are no guarantees that we wouldn’t have to continue to ratchet down services or close a facility.”
Mission officials say that they are on track to have a deal with HCA in August.