WNC Healthcare

Courtesy of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital

A hospital at the western end of North Carolina is expanding psychiatric services through a pilot program that is the first of its kind in the state.

Lilly Knoepp

  Mental healthcare providers say that increased anxiety and a shorter fuse are normal during COVID-19 stress.  BPR talked with one provider for rural Western North Carolina about what it’s like to deal with a pandemic – and help others through it: 


Meridian Behavioral Health Services serves the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina. Like anywhere else, life looks very different now for the organization’s health care providers:


“Pretty much everything has changed since COVID-19.”


N.C. Geological Survey

Today some businesses in Georgia are now open after Governor Brian Kemp gave an executive order. Blue Ridge Public Radio talks to a Cherokee County official what this means for Western North Carolina. 

Courtesy of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital

Cherokee County has been one of the rural hotspots for COVID-19 in North Carolina.  The lone hospital there – Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Murphy - cut back employee’s hours because of the crisis. Blue Ridge Public Radio spoke with two doctors to see how the hospital is holding up in the face of the pandemic.

Dr. Stephen Rubendall started working in Murphy just last week.  He moved from Mitchell County, Georgia, where Rubendall says the COVID-19 spread is much different. 

Courtesy of the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority


On Sunday, it was announced that two Cherokee County residents tested positive for COVID-19 through The Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority(CIHA). 

Lilly Knoepp

Dogwood Health Trust has committed to spending $10 million to fight COVID-19 in Western North Carolina.  

In a Zoom call on Wednesday afternoon, Dogwood Health Trust CEO Antony Chiang explained that the foundation, which was created after the $1.5 billion dollar sale of Mission Health to HCA Healthcare, is working with local partners across the region to address the COVID-19 epidemic.  

Chiang says that the foundation is focusing on three areas: flattening the curve, preparing the region and mitigating negative impacts from the virus.   

Lilly Knoepp

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has officially banned outdoor patio dining in the state due to COVID-19. Some restaurants across the state were still offering takeout patio dining. 

On Thursday, Jeanette Evans, owner of the Mad Batter Kitchen in downtown Sylva, was setting up for takeout dining. Evans says that the Jackson County Health Department had come by to explain the ban for the kitchen and the Lazy Hiker Taproom, as well as provide some protocol for customers to safely eat takeout.

Lilly Knoepp

The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina(CFWNC) has announced an Emergency and Disaster Response Fund to help nonprofit’s addressing issues impacted by COVID-19, as well as, relief efforts across the 18-county region. 

Lilly Knoepp

  The closure of several labor and delivery units at hospitals across Western North Carolina means more mothers and their doctors are planning births differently.  


Dr. Suzanne Dixon has been an OBGYN with the Mountain Area Health Education Center for about 8 years. Most of the time she works in Asheville but she spends 2 days a week in Franklin at Mission Women’s Care. 

 “I’ve been the only one doing the women’s work at that practice,” says Dixon. 

Lilly Knoepp

Tuesday, NC Attorney General Josh Stein weighed in on community complaints about HCA Healthcare. 

Lilly Knoepp

The independent monitor overseeing HCA’s compliance with the agreements it made when it bought Mission Health has completed its round of public meetings.  BPR’s Lilly Knoepp talked with Gibbins Advisor’s co-founder about what’s next: 

During the first two months of this year, Gibbins Advisors held 7 public meetings in Mission Health’s service area.  Ron Winters estimates over 600 people attended those meetings to share their experiences on how healthcare at Mission facilities has changed since HCA bought the health system in February of last year. 

Courtesy of Dogwood Health Trust

The Dogwood Heath Trust announced its first awards with money from the sale of Mission Health to for-profit HCA.  Nearly 300 different nonprofits and government agencies received more than $3.7 million from Dogwood Health.  The grants were spread across the entire 18 counties of Mission Health System's coverage area as well as the Qualla Boundary, according to Dogwood.

Lilly Knoepp

  The independent monitor over HCA continued its tour of Western North Carolina at the Robert Carpenter Community Center in Franklin.

The meeting was held in the middle of a work day, something that frustrated the almost 50 people that gathered in Franklin to ask questions and air their concerns to Gibbins Advisors. Ron Winters is with the independent monitor overseeing HCA. 


Lilly Knoepp

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. 

  Last week, the doors closed on Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital’s Labor and Delivery Unit in Murphy. Here’s what the closure means for the region.

The closure was announced abruptly last month, as the number of births at the hospital had been declining for at least the last 5 years.  

Mayor Rick Ramsey of Murphy says he understands the decision because it was based solely on numbers. 

“There’s not enough predictable births to sustain and maintain the staff and the cost for doing so,” says Ramsey. 

Lilly Knoepp

  Yesterday, we heard about a lack of homeless shelters between Waynesville and Murphy.  Today, we look at a similar gap in substance abuse treatment centers in the same 80-mile distance. In Macon County here is a new treatment facility that hopes to fill that gap:  

Hazelwood Healthcare sits along Highway 441 to Georgia just past Franklin. It opened this week. 

“This is where you come back.” 

Courtesy of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital

  Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Murphy will close its labor and delivery unit next month. BPR spoke with hospital CEO Mark Kimball about how the decision was reached: 

Erlanger, a nonprofit-Chattanooga based health system purchased Murphy Medical Center in 2018. When the hospital was purchased it was in trouble says CEO Mark Kimball.  He adds decisions like closing the labor and delivery will hopefully keep the hospital profitable.

Courtesy of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital

Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Murphy has announced that it will be closing its Labor and Delivery services the first week of December. The OB/GYN practice will then close on December 31.  

Lilly Knoepp

The North Carolina General Assembly is back in session this week.  But it will not be taking up the vetoed state budget – meaning a major cut to mental health care providers in Western North Carolina will stay in place for now.

BPR talks to one local mental health provider about how this will impact the community: 

Photo courtesy of HCA Healthcare

Mission Health reached a deal with health insurer Cigna before their contract lapsed. 

The Asheville hospital system reach a deal with the insurance company on October 30, just shy of the November 1 deadline. 

The multi-year agreement ensures that all Cigna patients will remain in-network. This deal covers Mission Health, an operating division of HCA Healthcare, which includes the surrounding five rural hospitals. Only Mission Hospital was in danger of going out of network.

Lilly Knoepp

 For the first time ever, North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties met to discuss how to solve the opioid crisis.  BPR was at the summit in Bryson City.

For Graham County Commissioner Connie Orr, the issue is personal. Her son has been battling addiction since he was prescribed Vicodin at 15 years old. He’s now 51. 

“From that time until now my son has been fighting the addiction of opiates which has moved not only to opiates but to heroin, meth or any drug that is available right now,” says Orr. 

Lilly Knoepp

  As part of the sale of Mission Health to HCA, the for-profit health system promised to build a new hospital in Macon County.  BPR talked to Angel Medical Center’s CEO about when ground will be broken for the new facility.

A new Angel Medical Center was in the works long before the HCA sale says CEO and CNO Karen Gorby.

Courtesy of Dogwood Health Trust

Dogwood Health Trust, the nonprofit foundation created by the sale of Mission Health to for-profit HCA, has chosen its initial CEO. 

Antony Chiang, president of Empire Health Foundation, has been chosen as the initial CEO of Dogwood.  He has been president of he organization for the last nine years. It is similar to Dogwood but based in Spokane, Washington. 

Dogwood Health Trust

Dogwood Health Trust has announced another member of their board of directors. 

The non-profit health foundation that was formed when Mission Health sold to for-profit HCA Health announced that Dr. Donna Tipton-Rogers  will join the board. 

A Cherokee County native and graduate of Murphy High School, Tipton-Rogers became the first woman to serve as president of Tri-County Community College in 2007. 

Lilly Knoepp

Nantahala Health Foundation has hired Lori Bailey as executive director of the organization. The new nonprofit health foundation formed after the February sale of Mission Health to for-profit HCA Health.

Lilly Knoepp

  It’s been almost six months since Mission Health was sold to for-profit HCA Health. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein visited two Mission Hospitals this week to see how the aftermath of the sale is transpiring.  BPR caught up with him at Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard. 


Lilly Knoepp

The Dogwood Health Trust Foundation has officially opened up the search for a CEO.

The organization, which was created by the sale of Mission Health to for-profit HCA Health, has posted a leadership profile on their website with details about applying for the position.

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

North Carolina attorney general Josh Stein will give his blessing to the proposed sale of Mission Health to HCA.  That means Western North Carolina's major health system will go from a non-profit to a for-profit in the coming months.  But before he gave his approval, Stein announced several changes to the proposed sale contract between the two sides after hearing from concerned community members and groups.  Stein made the announcement Wednesday afternoon in Asheville.

Davin Eldridge

Angel Medical Center’s board of directors  made it official – later this year, the far-western North Carolina hospital will no longer deliver babies.