Patrick Taylor Highlands Mayor
Yes, that’s me in the picture on page 6 of the Saturday edition of the Asheville Citizens Times, although I’m not identified. I was asking a question at the WNC Conversion Health Foundation Forum. Mayor Bob Scott of Franklin and I attended the meeting along with over 100 representatives from organizations across Western Carolina. You might ask why was I there? The forum was the initial rollout of the newly proposed Dogwood Health Trust that will be created if and when Mission Healthcare is sold to Hospital Corporation of America. I wanted to get information about the new healthcare foundation and how it might impact the Highlands/Cashiers area. This new organization will manage a one to two billion dollar endowment generated the sale of the Mission Healthcare System. Mission has established a small steering board to begin the process of creating a larger independent foundation board. The new Dogwood Trust will serve the 18 counties of Western North Carolina from Mitchell to Cherokee County. This healthcare foundation will support community health/wellness programs. The underlying concept is that a healthy citizenry will translate into lower, stable and affordable healthcare costs for Western Carolina. The forum speakers addressed issues related to the creation of this new foundation. One speaker outlined the need for health programs to support people at the lower socioeconomic levels. Two chief executive officers of other healthcare foundations provided good advice on how to operate the foundation. Dr. John Ball of Mission Healthcare gave an overview of the sale of Mission to HCA and the creation of the Dogwood Trust. So what about my question? I asked the question to Jennifer Harrod, a Special Deputy Attorney General. The N.C. Attorney General will review and approve the sale of Mission to HCA, as well as the establishment of the Dogwood Healthcare Trust. Ms. Harrod gave an overview of the process and then took questions. Acknowledging that the current negotiations between HCA and Mission had to be confidential, I asked when would the press and the public have access to those documents outlining the sale and organization structure that will have been submitted to the Attorney General. Her response surprised me. We were told that normally such documents were not accessible, but public access might be a good idea in this case. I responded that as and elected official operating under open records laws, I believed that it would be important for those documents to be public also. A recurrent theme of the forum presenters was a need for the foundation to build public trust. At the appropriate time, sharing documents detailing the plans, agreements and transactions will be a major step in establishing this public trust. Many participant questions followed centering around transparency and trust in the process moving forward. Sustaining Essential and Rural Community Healthcare (SEARCH) has been created by citizens served by Blue Ridge Hospital. Representatives were at the forum and asked several important questions. Their website is: https://searchwnc.org.