by Andrew R. Jones, avlwatchdog.org
Six community meetings intended to allow Western North Carolinians to provide feedback on HCA Healthcare-owned Mission Hospital will have public comment segments following an Asheville Watchdog report that questioned whether an open forum would be available.
Gibbins Advisors, the Nashville-based firm hired by Dogwood Health Trust to monitor Mission Health’s compliance with a 10-year, 15-commitment purchase agreement after its $1.5 billion sale to HCA in 2019, said Tuesday morning that the meetings in six counties to be held today through early next year will include an opportunity for attendees to address the entire room.
“We will provide time for public comment and Q&A during the Independent Monitor’s community meetings,” Gibbins co-founder and managing director Ronald Winters said Tuesday afternoon. “The public comment and Q&A will be for the entire room to hear. We have always been intent on listening carefully to the public but it has become even more clear the community places importance on being able to express concerns in an open forum with their neighbors. We want to be respectful and responsive to that.”
Today’s meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Brevard’s Thomas Concert Hall. The second will be held at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at Asheville’s Scenic Hotel. Others are planned for Macon, Jackson, McDowell, and Mitchell counties.
Winters previously would not answer The Watchdog’s direct questions on whether the meetings would include a time for attendees to address the room in an open forum, as is standard in public comment periods and was the case when Gibbins held its first public meetings in early 2020.
Sen. Julie Mayfield, D-Buncombe, told The Watchdog that Winters had told her that the meeting format would include a PowerPoint presentation and would not provide a time for open public comment, and that she had urged Winters to reconsider. She said Winters told her Tuesday there would be public comment.
Mark Weinstein, a Transylvania County resident who helped organize independent meetings and a report on quality of care at the Mission Health hospital in Brevard, expressed frustration.
“The fact that this was even a question is indicative of the frustration many are feeling in the community,” Weinstein said, “Nobody seems to really be listening. And nobody seems to be able to do anything.”
Winters also said Tuesday that in the future Gibbins will hold public meetings earlier in the year.
A presentation Gibbins gave to Dogwood Health Trust and the attorney general’s office Aug. 31 indicated that part of the firm’s annual review of HCA’s compliance with the purchase agreement included public meetings within 75 days after the end of April.
Public meetings were not held in that timeframe.
“We updated our illustration … of the Independent Monitor’s Annual Compliance Evaluation process in August 2023 to reflect the new process of incorporating public meetings into our 75-day annual compliance review period,” Winters said via email. “That illustration is accurate as to our process as of the time of publishing and for future periods, but it does not relate to our process during this year’s compliance evaluation process … for the 2022 reporting period. We apologize for any confusion caused.”
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Andrew R. Jones is a Watchdog investigative reporter. Email email@example.com. To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.