Consider economy, community feel, residents tell hospital board

By Vicki Hyatt | Aug 25, 2013
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt Area residents gathered at the hospital's health and fitness center Thursday to weigh in on the institution's future.

Those speaking at a MedWest-Haywood public hearing on a resolution of intent to sell, lease or otherwise convey the hospital asked board members to consider the economy as well as future healthcare as they made their decision.

About 60 people showed up at the Thursday evening meeting, though fewer than a dozen addressed the board.

Lanae McCracken, a retired registered nurse, said she had worked at the old hospital in Waynsville, moved to the new hospital in Clyde and even spent a few years at Mission.

She spoke of a visit by the Mission CEO in 1985 who she said told the group it was Mission’s intent to consume all outlying hospitals.

“I started getting afraid then,” she said. “I like friendly competition and was afraid if Mission moved this way. They did go north, did go east and are trying to go south. My worry is about them coming west. We don’t want to be consumed by anybody. We want a friendly partnership.”

Long-time Waynesville resident Harley Caldwell’s main question was whether the community would be able to keep the hospital.

“I’ve got an old gut feeling we had some people in here that's running it into the ground — take what you can get and get gone,” he said. “Let’s keep this hospital. We might need it.”

Lee Hiatt, who spent years visiting from Tampa and eventually moved here, compared the thought of losing a hospital to that of his mother's in moving to a nursing home.

“This is about the feeling I have about the possibility of losing something I have cherished, and that is our hospital,” he said.” Problems are made by people. Solutions are made by people. We have already tried to get somebody bigger than ourselves and we have not accomplished a thing.”

Larry Wooten said he was speaking as a proud retiree of an institution that has existed 87 years.

“I don’t think Carolinas (Healthcare System) has done us any favors. While the idea of MedWest was great, too much was tried too soon, perhaps the major reason for a failed experiment," he said.

People quit listening to the administration, who quit listening to the employees, he said, and some were afraid to speak their mind.

"Many are still fearful for their jobs and whether the hospital will survive," he said. “They think the hospital will exist, but aren’t sure in which model. I encourage you to pray for directions and for the correct decision — and don’t believe everything you hear. Investigate.”

Tom Ezell, an eight-year resident who had been visiting over the summer for 20 years, said he has been impressed with quality of care and the proficiency of the physicians in Haywood.

“My concern is you are essentially a grossly underfunded, undercapitalized institution,” he said. “If you put yourself up for lease or sale, you are not in a strong position to make the points you might otherwise make.”

As a consultant for organizations, including hospitals, that were looking for an infusion of capital, Ezell said, “the underdog always ends up the underdog. … When you are in a precarious capital situation, it is very, very difficult to reach the best possible solution.”

Gerri Casse said she didn’t don’t know the best answer, but implored the board to keep an open mind and consider all the options, including Mission.

“I’ve had experiences with both hospitals and both were favorable. I have nothing against Mission. It offers what appears to be a very good business operation. We could use that here,” she said.

Laura Leatherwood, the HRMC Foundation chairman, told board members the foundation has been actively involved in supporting the hospital since 1991 and has raised over $14 million in contributions within the community that have helped every hospital department in some way.

“ We understand and we get it that with good local healthcare, business will locate here, jobs will be created here and the overall health of the community will continue to thrive,” she said. “The foundation is in support of this hospital, regardless of who you choose to lead or partner with us.”

Steve McNeil, a former hospital employee and now a local business owner, spoke on behalf of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.

He blamed the current financial problems at the hospital on a decertification fiasco in 2008.

“The hospital had $15 to $20 million in reserves that were used in getting our certification back,” he said.

He predicted if the hospital is not here, the community will end up with satellite offices such as the “Mission office up the street.”

“The Chamber of Commerce and I personally want to extend our support to the hospital and let you know we will do everything we can so you can continue to provide care we need in this county,” he said.

Gavin Brown, Waynesville mayor and a leader in the county’s economic development effort, noted the hospital was the county’s third largest employer and a valuable recruitment tool for those who are looking to relocate here.

“People are looking for quality of life,” he said. “I ask that you remind yourselves of that. You are very valuable.”

Zeb Smathers reminded the board their employees were the best advocates. He praised the decision to locate the Urgent Care Center in his home town of Canton, and said people in the county want the hospital to be the best it can be.

“When you make this decision, understand it is an economic decision for the entire county,” he said.

Louise Johnson said she had come to know the medical practitioners in the county and liked the small-town feel at the hospital.

“When I’m treated, it is by somebody I see at the grocery store, library or walking on the track,” she said. “It is important to have people who know you or see you every week. I think they have a more personal, compassionate interest.”

Johnson said she didn’t mind who it is that takes over at the hospital.

“I just want the people who do to be people who live here,” she said.

MedWest-Haywood Board Chairman Frank Powers said at the hearing’s conclusion that he, too, was attracted to this community because of the hospital and medical care that is available.

“I assure you we will put our stakeholders in the very first-place position in our thinking,” he said

Janie Sinacore-Jaberg, MedWest-Haywood CEO, told the crowd there would be not information shared on the discussions concerning potential partners or the structure a partnership might take. There will be a second public hearing at a date to be determined by the MedWest governing board, the entity comprised of MedWest-Haywood, MedWest-Harris and MedWest Swain. The timing for the second hearing and any subsequent actions depend on decisions made by the MedWest board.