A class-action lawsuit alleges that HCA Healthcare, the for-profit owner of Mission Health, is using a monopoly to charge more while providing poorer quality of care.
The 87-page suit was filed Wednesday in Buncombe County Superior Court on behalf of six plaintiffs, all of whom live in Mission's Western North Carolina service area. The non-profit health care system was sold to for-profit HCA in 2019. The suit alleges even before it was sold, Mission was operating as a monopoly following its 1995 merger with St. Joseph's Hospital in Asheville. Since the sale to HCA, the suit claims 'HCA has been cutting costs and staff at an alarming rate, leaving Western North Carolinians with increasingly bad healthcare at an evergrowing price. It has also taken steps to drive business to its more expensive flagship facility in Asheville, reducing access and increasing travel times for citizens in affected areas.'
In a statement emailed to BPR, Mission Health/HCA Healthcare NC Division spokesperson Nancy Lindell said "Once we have been served with the lawsuit, we will respond appropriately through the legal process. We are committed to caring for Western North Carolina as demonstrated through more than $330 million in Charity Care and uninsured discounts we provided in 2020, expansion of hospital services including the opening of the North Tower, a new Pediatric ER, and securing land for a new 120-bed behavioral health hospital. Further, we have invested in our colleagues with onboarding nearly 1,200 new members this year and providing more than $3 million in student loan and tuition reimbursement in 2020. Mission Health is committed to the health and well-being of every person who comes to us for care and we are proud of our dedicated hospital teams that are facing the many challenges of this pandemic and the exceptional care they have provided to our patients."
Complaints about staffing and service cuts once HCA took over Mission have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville unionized in response to staffing changes. Six public meetings held in the winter of 2020 right before the pandemic began were full of stories from employees and patients about the problems they faced once HCA took over. Those meetings were held by the independent monitor tasked with ensuring that HCA follows through on agreements it made in the purchase agreement for Mission.
In addition to ending the alleged monopoly, the suit seeks for plaintiffs and others affected by HCA changes 'to recover threefold the damages determined to have been sustained by them as a result of Defendants’ misconduct.' Among the six plaintiffs are Asheville restauranteur Katie Button, who has a self-funded health insurance plan, and Will Overfelt, who started a Facebook group last year where residents could share their experiences with HCA. In a post Thursday monring, Overfelt wrote, "when my father entered Mission hospital in February of 2020 I was not prepared for the decline in care that we would experience as compared with previous experiences."