What’s new on the plateau

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Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor

Last Wednesday Gibbins Advisors, the monitor for the HCA/Mission transaction, held a public meeting at our recreation department. This inaugural meeting was one of several held in the region. The monitors outlined what their role would be in regard to Hospital Corporation of American meeting the NC Attorney General’s stipulations that were included in his approval of the sale of Mission Healthcare to HCA. The Highlands Cashiers Hospital, along with several other small hospitals, is a part of this process.
I was surprised that only 30 residents attended the meeting. I suspect there may be a jaded, skeptical view in the community that the new corporate owners of the hospital will do whatever they want to do. Frankly, when Mission took over the operation of the hospital six years ago, residents were told how services would significantly improve. Some folks contend just the opposite happened. I suspect there still remains widespread skepticism about what will happen to services under the HCA leadership.
When the floor was opened to the public, I spoke first. I indicated that I have measured optimism that there can be improvements at the hospital, especially if HCA and other community organizations can establish mutually beneficial partnerships. Let me review several ways these partnerships might work.
Pisgah Legal Aid Services is working to establish a presence in the Cashiers and Highlands area. They specialize in assisting low income people in qualifying for Medicaid and/or the Affordable Care Act. If a person shows up at an emergency room without insurance, hospitals have to treat the patient and possibly write off the debt. HCA made a commitment in the Attorney General’s stipulations to provide a basic level of care for everyone. If Pisgah can help more people in the area qualify for this support, HCA will ultimately benefit. More patients with insurance to pay for services will benefit the entire community. The Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation may have an important role to play in this Pisgah initiative, especially since access to legal services impacts the longterm health and wellness outcomes.
I am also optimistic that a concerted community effort may be able to address the lack of primary physicians in the area. The health foundations, Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation and the Dogwood Health Foundation could play key roles in addressing this issue. HCA will need to be an active partner also. Under the sales agreement HCA committed to investing 7.5 million dollars, or $750,000 a year, in community benefit programs over the next 10 years.
At other meetings in Cashiers and Franklin, the health monitors heard more impassioned concerns from residents than what they heard here in Highlands. But, I have heard similar concerns here too. Lack of consistent services, no doctors that remain in the community, and problems in the billing, are just a few examples.
The good news is that the monitors have established a portal on the internet to receive concerns about services and operations at the HCA facilities. Email any concerns to: IndependentMonitor@gibbinsadvisors.com. Your information will be kept anonymous. Patients can report good service and outcomes also.
The Wednesday meeting was a good first start. My involvement will continue. I am also in communication with the Western North Carolina Health Equity Coalition. HEC was formed during the sale of Mission to HCA. It is a coalition of nonprofit groups that are committed to representing everyone, especially the underserved citizens of Western Carolina. It is concerned about access, services and operations at HCA facilities throughout Western Carolina. They are committed to insuring quality services throughout the region. HEC will seek to establish constructive engagement with the monitors. For more information Google WNC Health Equity Coalition.

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