Letter: Scarce staffing at Mission raises concerns

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I recently had my first experience with the new Mission Hospital, now owned and managed by the “for profit” Health Corporation of America, commonly known as HCA. This experience is documented below.

I drove my friend to Mission Hospital for an outpatient arteriogram. We arrived at 9 a.m. for a 9:30 appointment. The test was held in Entrance 2, which is a large multistory building. The public areas consisted of two large lobbies, a gift shop and a cafeteria. I was to wait for my friend to drive her home after her procedure. I was at the hospital until 5 p.m. At that time, I was told that she would not be ready to go home until 7:30 p.m. I left the hospital and returned at 7:30 to pick up my friend.

While at the hospital, I noticed that there were hardly any staff in either of the lobbies, in spite of the fact that in the main lobby there was designated seating for staff which would accommodate probably eight or so staff members. During the entire time I was there, I saw at most two staff members there. At one time, I attempted to get information about the status of my friend, and there was only one staff member available; she was a new employee and was unable to give me any information. The only information I got regarding the multiple delays were texts I received from my friend. Nothing from hospital employees, nor was I able to locate staff to get her status.

I returned to the hospital at 7:30. When I arrived, I could not find even one staff member to help me locate my friend. Not in either lobby, or anywhere else in the public areas. I then attempted to go to the back of the first floor where patients were located only to find all the doors locked. In desperation I looked for anyone wearing a hospital badge. Eventually, I located a woman in street clothes who was wearing a hospital badge. She worked in billing and was kind enough to stop where she was going and helped me locate my friend. I will say that when I encountered staff members, they were very helpful. The problem was locating a staff member.

I could not imagine running a hospital like this or why staff was so scarce. The only thing I could think of was, in an effort to cut costs, a lot of the lower-level staff positions were eliminated, and the hospital was running a skeleton crew. I wondered if the skeleton crew extended to the part of the hospital where sick patients needed constant care and, if so, what risk this put the patients in. Regarding this patient risk, I have heard the following rumors since HCA has taken over Mission Hospital:

1. Nursing assistant positions have been reduced and/or eliminated and their workload has been shifted to the nurses responsible for patient care.

2. The patient load per floor nurse has been increased.

3. The hospital staff was directed not to talk to the press regarding working conditions or the changes HCA has instituted since they have taken over.

If these rumors are true, it appears that not only is HCA emphasizing profits at the expense of patient care, but attempting to keep this information from the public. Since Mission Hospital is the only option around for most of the citizens of Western North Carolina, this should make all citizens have grave concerns about the level of care this hospital is able and willing to provide.

— Kathryn Mead

Editor’s note: Xpress contacted Mission Health with a summary of the letter writer’s points, and we received the following response from spokesperson Nancy Lindell: “In recent months, we have seen increased patient volumes and are adding positions to ensure our nurses can continue to focus on providing excellent nursing care. We are adding recruitment staff to speed up our recruitment of nursing support positions.

“While unemployment rates across the country are at a 50-year low, we are trying to implement new and creative ways to incentivize job seekers to consider Mission Hospital. In October 2019, HCA Healthcare raised the minimum wage for all staff to $12.50 per hour. Additionally, we are now offering a higher minimum wage for 12 positions, including certified nurse assistants, patient care techs, health unit coordinators, environmental services and food services, along with sign-on bonuses for registered nurses as high at $15,000, doing what we can to fill open positions.

“Mission has hired more than 80 new staff in January across the hospital and additionally has contracted with more than 300 traveler nurses who are here assisting until our new full-time colleagues are on board.

“Our administrators meet with front-line staff in daily huddles to recognize the incredible care being delivered and to work to provide the tools and resources needed for our team to care for our patients in our region. We pride ourselves on our compassionate care of every patient who comes to us.”


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7 thoughts on “Letter: Scarce staffing at Mission raises concerns

  1. AVL citizen

    Maybe if they hadn’t eliminated so many positions initially, then they’d already have a fully staffed hospital by now. Ridiculous.

    • Big Al

      Many of these positions were eliminated by Mission BEFORE HCA took over.

      HCA has announced that they are reversing some of these decisions.

      Pre-HCA Mission almost never listened to staff complaints or reversed themselves once a decision to cut staff and consolidate roles was made.

  2. Richard B.

    A question for Ms. Mead….Would you rather have to look for a staff person after hours in the admin/admission area, or have your friend or another patient search for an RN, etc., on their floor? In other words, have you considered that there may be cutbacks in the admin area, where most day-stay patients are picked up by 5 pm.? Or would you prefer to have someone right there to meet your needs, regardless of the hour, at the expense of patient care staff?
    In today’s health care environment, these are the types of decisions that Board members and administrators have to make. Especially in relatively rural Western NC, where the ratio of self pay (no pay) and Medicaid patients to private insurance patients is higher than in the rest of the state.

  3. Big Al

    Local institutions like AB Tech do not produce enough RNs, CNAs or support staff for a hospital system as large as Mission, so much (maybe most) of the hiring is done from out-of-town.

    Fewer medical professionals are willing to move to Asheville when all of the affordable housing in Buncombe County has been snapped up for Air BnBs, short-term (vacation) rentals, second homes for vacations, and second homes for retirees to live of the rent of.

    Medical professionals moving here to work have to live in and commute from surrounding counties. Some have to commute an hour or more.

    So if you don’t like the staffing at Mission, thank the TDA and the City Council for talking up Asheville to the tourists and retirees who took away all of the housing.

  4. Beverly Wright

    Mission (Missing) Hospital! Shame on you! Your tactics won’t help the negative popularity you’re establishing. Tourists! Heads up!

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