Hospital sale represents a historic change, better times

Jul 25, 2014

Last week’s sale of Haywood Regional Medical Center to Duke LifePoint represents the beginning of a new era in the county.

Haywood County has a proud history of providing local medical care in the community. Bonds for the county’s first public hospital, which was actually the first county hospital in the state, were approved in November 1926. Ironically, $10,000 in funding from the Duke Endowment helped build the 75-bed facility that opened in Waynesville by the end of 1927.

Since that time, the hospital has been a nonprofit operation, using any net margins to improve healthcare in the community. In 1975, the hospital expanded and moved to Clyde thanks to the approval of a $14.5 million bond issue on 17 acres of property donated by LeRoy Brunson George and his wife, Evelyn.

The bonds were paid off in 1997 when the facility converted from a county hospital to a hospital authority, a move hospital leaders billed as a way to manage more nimbly in modern times.

By the first of August 2014, another major change will occur.

With the sale to Duke LifePoint, the nonprofit facility will become a for-profit enterprise, though Duke LifePoint leaders quickly note their company pays no dividends. Instead, stockholders prefer to continue investing in the communities where they are operating.

Those following the sale know the history of Duke LifePoint, what the company has brought to other communities in which they invest and the driving philosophy of the company — providing high quality local care and growing service lines to meet the needs of a community.

The company promises to bring much-needed capital into the community to upgrade facilities, equipment and services. The offer is one that has community leaders and hospital leaders breathing a huge sigh of relief.

It is no secret the hospital has struggled since 2008 when the community learned errors in hospital care lead to HRMC being decertified as a Medicare/Medicaid provider.

The painful journey to climb out of the financial hole and a demoralizing situation left the hospital nearly broke with its reputation compromised. While significant strides were made to restore confidence in both regulators and patients, it was an experience those who lived through it will never forget.

If anything, however, the experience made the community realize the importance of having medical care close to home, and a groundswell of support most certainly helped the hospital survive.

The MedWest affiliation seemed promising for a time, but conflicts with WestCare partners ultimately drove a need for an alternate solution.

Duke LifePoint executives told leaders communities just like Haywood are places where they have found their niche. Much is possible, they promise, if the community embraces the medical services offered here.

As support grows for more and better services, the company has the funds to grow them.

It sounds like a promising deal. Who doesn’t want quality healthcare in their back yard for themselves and for their family members? Many would prefer not to drive to Asheville for medical care simply because they don’t like big cities or traffic. Others are too feeble to drive, or perhaps don’t own a reliable vehicle to travel out of county.

Still others understand that local economies thrive with support from local residents. The more people who support local businesses and industries, the more jobs it will create locally.

The Duke LifePoint offer has much promise. Congratulations to all those who worked so hard to make it happen and to the hospital employees who stayed the course through the difficult times and are here to hopefully face better, more prosperous times.

Welcome Duke LifePoint. May your presence in our community be a blessing to both you and to us.