Three hospital systems — AdventHealth, HCA Healthcare/Mission Health and Novant Health — are jousting for the opportunity to build a facility in Western North Carolina. During an Aug. 12 public hearing at A-B Tech, members of the public got to voice their opinions on who should provide the area’s newest hospital beds.
Buncombe, Graham, Madison and Yancey counties will together have a projected need of 67 additional acute care beds by 2024, according to a plan published by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Division of Health Service Regulation. In North Carolina, as in 34 other states, health systems must obtain a “certificate of need” from the government before building beds to meet that demand.
AdventHealth, HCA Healthcare/Mission Health and Novant Health each filed certificate of need applications June 15 explaining their plans. At the Aug. 12 hearing, hosted by the NCDHSR Healthcare Planning division, each applicant had 15 minutes to make its case. Members of the public then got three minutes apiece to share their opinions. (Employees of and consultants for the applicants were not permitted to speak on their behalf during public comment.)
Dr. Pamela Oliver, executive vice president of nonprofit Novant Health, proposed a new building with 67 beds in South Asheville. She touted the system’s commitment to the health care providers under its employment.
“We believe alignment with providers is essential,” she said. “Recruiting and retaining registered nurses … is a top priority for us,” alluding to recent rallies at Mission by the National Nurses United union.
Greg Lowe, president of the North Carolina division of HCA Healthcare — Mission’s Nashville-based parent company — vowed that his company would provide “the greatest scope of services.” He said the region needs “high-acuity beds,” meant to treat patients who need a higher level of observation, and said HCA was best positioned to do so by building on its current assets.
Chad Patrick, CEO of Mission Hospital, added that HCA’s project wouldn’t require building a new hospital from the ground up because it would expand existing Mission facilities. For this reason, he said, HCA also wouldn’t occupy additional Buncombe County real estate.
And Dr. Ansley Miller, chief of medical staff at Mission Hospital, warned about “misinformation” in the media regarding allegations of Mission’s diminished services. “The public doesn’t have to rely on negative sound bites,” she said. “All Mission team members are personally hurt when a caregiver’s expectations are not met.”
The final presentation came from Brandon Nudd, CEO of AdventHealth Hendersonville. He claimed the region wants a not-for-profit hospital such as AdventHealth rather than one managed by for-profit HCA.
“We are not strained by the demands of shareholders,” Budd said. Turning to the audience, he emphasized, “You are my stakeholders.”
Budd noted that AdventHealth has intentionally proposed a new building site in Enka-Candler so as to bring the needed acute care beds to a part of WNC beyond the already well-served Asheville core.
Public support during the comment period seemed to be evenly divided between AdventHealth and HCA. But HCA also garnered the most comments in opposition. Those opposed to Novant Health’s application were primarily Biltmore Park neighborhood residents wary of the noise and traffic a nearby hospital might bring.
Among AdventHealth’s backers was Jerry Vehaun, mayor of Woodfin and a former Buncombe County Emergency Services director. He shared how years ago, he and his wife both suffered falls and got care at Mission Health.
“Because of the service I got [at Mission], we went to Advent,” he said. Vehaun touted its care and praised the hospital’s cleanliness compared with that of Mission, declaring “you could literally eat off the floor at Advent.”
Micheal Woods, executive director of Western Carolina Rescue Ministries, also supports AdventHealth’s application. He said the company was the only applicant to approach him asking how health care could be improved for his ministry’s homeless clients. “Just the fact they would come and ask was huge to us, to know we’re not the forgotten neighbor,” Woods said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Clay Ballantine voiced his support for Novant Health, praising its collaborations with local medical communities. “We don’t need another outside entity putting a corporate footprint here,” he said.
Ballantine shared that he started a hospital group at Mission Hospital but he eventually went into private practice, citing an “at-times abysmal decline in quality and access to medical care.”
Speaking in favor of HCA was Samantha Kappalman, who opposed Novant Health’s application in her Biltmore Park neighborhood. “We cannot handle our current traffic patterns, much less an increase,” she said. Kappalman shared that she had multiple surgeries at Mission Hospital and praised the care she received. (Kappalman was previously employed by Mission Health in a communications role from 2016-18, according to LinkedIn.)
Also backing HCA was Larry Harris, the mayor of Black Mountain and chair of Mission Hospital’s board of trustees. Clarifying that he is not employed by Mission, he spoke in support of the system’s medical staff.