The impact the Mission-HCA deal could have on smaller mountain hospitals


    State Attorney General Josh Stein said his office does not object to the $1.5 billion deal, which has some revisions that especially pertain to Mission's rural hospitals like Angel and Cashiers-Highlands. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

    HCA’s plans to acquire the Mission Health system took another step forward Wednesday, when state Attorney General Josh Stein made a major announcement in Asheville. Mission, whose main hospital is in Asheville, has facilities in other western counties, including two in Macon County. And people there were listening to the announcement carefully.

    Stein said his office does not object to the $1.5 billion deal, which has some revisions that especially pertain to Mission's rural hospitals like Angel and Cashiers-Highlands.

    Residents on the streets of Highlands are following the HCA-Mission deal closely.

    “I think it could be a good thing for the area,” Kelly Barbato said.

    Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor said the conversion process has been contentious at times but also healthy, with the town board wanting assurances Mission's rural hospitals would stay open beyond five years.

    “We wanted to see a guarantee that our hospital would be able to stay open not for five years but for 10 years. The approval by the attorney general addresses that,” Taylor said. “Guarantees that keeping the hospital open will be 10 years, I believe that our residents will be very, very pleased with that decision.”

    That 10-year commitment also pertains to Franklin's Angel Medical Center, which is also run by Mission. Mayor Bob Scott is still concerned, though, with for-profit HCA taking over nonprofit Mission. His focus remains on local health care for residents and economic impact.

    “I hope that nobody loses a job at Angel in the name of efficiency,” he said.

    Both mayors had also pushed for diversity and transparency on Dogwood Health Trust, the board that will oversee a trust fund for programs and services.

    “If that does not happen, I'm very concerned that it will still be a strictly a Mission foundation,” Scott said.

    But the attorney general is giving assurances that several western Carolina counties like Macon will be represented on that board, not just Buncombe.

    “The attorney general's decision has actually strengthened the original sale proposal,” Taylor said.

    There's early planning for a new hospital in Franklin, but Scott says neither HCA nor Mission have talked to him about where it's going to be, what it's going to be or what's going to happen to the current Angel hospital.

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