Finding a nurse to answer a patient’s call, someone to prepare equipment for surgery or even to clean a room at Mission Health is often an exercise in futility, speakers said at a Feb. 10 meeting to get public input on the performance of the system since it was taken over by for-profit owners.
Local elected officials, ordinary citizens and even a Mission nurse all blasted the stewardship of Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare, which bought the collection of hospitals and other health care institutions for $1.5 billion and began running it in February 2019.
“Patients are screaming into the hallways: ‘Please help! Help!’” Dr. Carole Saltzman, a retired physician, told consultants hired to monitor HCA’s adherence to the terms of the purchase from the nonprofit that had owned and run the system.
Jennifer Kirby, a Candler resident who is a nurse at Mission’s main hospital in Asheville, tearfully told the crowd, “Every single department in that hospital that is designed to help the patient … is critically and unethically and inhumanely understaffed.
“I used to be really proud of where I worked. I’m not anymore,” she said.
Almost everyone who spoke was strongly critical of changes made under HCA. Worries about a shortage of workers and patient care dominated the discussion, but speakers also raised concerns about HCA’s charity care policy, relationships with physicians, services for deaf patients and other issues.
State Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, read a letter from herself, Mayor Esther Manheimer, county Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman and Buncombe County’s three state House members that called for changes in what the letter says are “unacceptable” outcomes of the sale. The co-authors stood beside Van Duyn.
The letter notes predictions Mission officials made before the sale that HCA would turn a profit at Mission by making purchasing and back office functions more efficient.
“It is clear now that this was a lie,” the letter says. “Instead, HCA has chosen to make its money by reducing charity care, eliminating medical and unit administrative staff to the detriment of patient care and safety, and sacrificing entire physician practice groups with long-standing contractual relationships by demanding significant reductions in pay.”
A shortage of staffers is “putting patient safety at risk,” the officials said.
Several people said it is also harming employee morale.
“I have lots and lots of friends who work for Mission,” said Fairview resident Barbara de Loache. “They are miserable.”
The meeting is one of several being held around Western North Carolina by Gibbins Advisors, a consulting firm hired by Dogwood Health Trust, the nonprofit that received proceeds from the Mission sale. The legal requirements Gibbins is monitoring generally have to do with provision of specific services rather than quality of care, but a Gibbins official told the crowd it would relay all of the concerns to Dogwood and HCA.
Mission spokeswoman Nancy Lindell said Feb. 11 that system officials “heard the passionate voices of our community. This feedback is important to us and, as such, we have been and continue to actively work with both our local and corporate leaders to identify opportunities for improvement.”
She said the past year “has been a time of enormous transition for our organization and … we have sometimes created confusion by not effectively communicating about changes.” The system will evaluate next steps once the current round of similar meetings around WNC is complete, Lindell said.