Hospital foundation seeks a new purpose

By Vicki Hyatt | Feb 14, 2014

After 84 years in operation, Haywood County’s nonprofit hospital system is shifting gears.

Within the next couple of months, Duke LifePoint Healthcare, a private company, will be purchasing Haywood Regional Medical Center and the affiliates now under MedWest Haywood.

The ownership shift represents a number of changes, including the longstanding Haywood Regional Medical Center Foundation, a nonprofit organization chartered to raise funds to benefit the hospital.

Since Duke LifePoint is a for-profit business, the hospital foundation will no longer be able to provide direct support to the hospital and the purpose of the foundation as chartered will cease to exist.

Laura Leatherwood, chairman of the organization, said the foundation fully supports the sale to Duke LifePoint, and has spoken at several hearings outlining the reasons.

As the final sale details grind on, the hospital foundation is simultaneously working on plans for its future, which includes researching different options to repurpose the organization.

“There continues to be a great need to improve the health of this community,” Leatherwood said. "We would like to see all the agencies committed to health care work together."

Programs such as Healthy Haywood, the Good Samaritan Clinic and other work at the county health department easily come to mind when searching for a way to achieve that goal.

"I personally believe the key to reducing health care costs is through prevention and fitness," she said.

At present, the foundation has committed $400,000 to renovate the fourth floor women's care center, a project that is under way.

Meanwhile, the two foundation employees now paid through MedWest Haywood will no longer have jobs when the sale is final, and the foundation charter will need to change. Leatherwood said she is meeting with community, county and nonprofit leaders in forging a new purpose for organization.

The county will receive $26.25 million for the hospital assets through the sale to Duke LifePoint, but these funds won't be available to spend immediately since there are still legal obligations that might arise after the sale. Leatherwood said discussions with county leaders will likely involve how the foundation efforts can be linked with this funding pool.

Plans call for continuing the 23rd Golf Gala, a major August fundraising event in the community. The gala has raised between $125,000 and $150,000 in recent years, and is something other nonprofit organizations have been eying, but Leatherwood made it clear the event is not up for grabs.

"We intend to move forward with the gala and any way you look at it, we will be doing something positive for the community," she said.

Since 1991 when the foundation stepped up fundraising efforts, more than $13 million was raised. The funds have been used to build the hospital's health and fitness center, the hospice center, the outpatient surgery center and the updated emergency room. Major equipment purchases were also made.

"We are exploring all viable options for restructuring the organization before we make a decision," Leatherwood said. "At this point, a decision has not been made."