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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE CLOSURE: UPDATES, RESOURCES, AND CONTEXT

Elected officials call on HCA to sell Mission Health System in wake of ‘immediate jeopardy’ designation

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, flanked by other elected officials, speaks at an event on HCA Healthcare Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.
Felicia Sonmez
Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, flanked by other elected officials, speaks at an event on HCA Healthcare Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

More than a half-dozen elected officials including state Sen. Julie Mayfield, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and Buncombe County Commission Chair Brownie Newman harshly criticized HCA Healthcare on Tuesday, calling on the embattled for-profit hospital giant to put patient safety first or sell Mission Health System to a nonprofit entity.

Tuesday’s press conference came days after federal authorities notified HCA Healthcare that conditions at Asheville’s Mission Hospital pose “immediate jeopardy” to patient safety.

HCA, which bought the previously-nonprofit Mission Health System for $1.5 billion in 2019, must rectify the problems identified by federal investigators by a Feb. 24 deadline or risk losing its Medicare and Medicaid funding.

"If HCA is unable or unwilling to put the health and safety of our people first, then it's time to find a company that will,” Mayfield (D) said. “And let me be clear: This community will not stop our advocacy and we will not quiet our voices until Mission Hospital once again provides world-class health care and the public's trust and confidence in our hospital has been restored."

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services officially notified HCA of the violations on Feb. 1. BPR obtained a copy of the CMS report Tuesday morning. The report states that Mission Hospital failed to meet standards in six areas including emergency services, nursing services and patients’ rights.

The details of the violations have not been made public.

At Tuesday’s event, Manheimer called the immediate jeopardy determination a “wake-up call” that she hopes will change the way HCA manages Mission Hospital. The hospital has been inundated with complaints and lawsuits, including one filed in December by state Attorney General Josh Stein (D) over the facility’s emergency and cancer care services.

Asheville's Mission Hospital.
Felicia Sonmez
Asheville's Mission Hospital.

The city of Brevard filed a federal lawsuit against HCA in June 2022, accusing the hospital company of “predatory monopolistic practices." The City of Asheville and Buncombe County followed suit a month later.

HCA spokeswoman Nancy Lindell said in a statement that “there are no excuses for our patients receiving anything other than exceptional care.”

“We respect the process of these surveys and will submit our corrective action plan to CMS by their deadline,” Lindell said. “Again, these findings are not the standard of care we expect, nor that our patients deserve, and we are working diligently to ensure Mission Hospital successfully serves the needs of the Western North Carolina community.”

Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof, whose city is home to Mission Health System’s Transylvania Regional Hospital, said Tuesday that she was “both relieved and horrified” by the federal investigators’ findings. HCA, she added, “has failed all of us.”

“Unfortunately, these voices of concern that have continued unabated for the last five years were met with silence and denial by HCA,” Copelof said, noting her own personal efforts to push HCA leaders to sell Mission Health System.

A North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said the details of the report will be released either in early March or once HCA submits an “acceptable plan of correction,” whichever comes first.

In their report, federal authorities notified HCA that they must submit their plan of correction no later than Feb. 6, “describing in detail the specific corrective measures taken to resolve these deficiencies.”

Even as they urged HCA to sell the hospital, the elected officials on Tuesday acknowledged that the 2019 purchase agreement does not contain a mechanism to force such a sale.

“We can’t force them to, but we can encourage them to sell,” Copelof said.

Mayfield declined to name any potential buyers in particular but said that there are “a number” of nonprofit health systems and university health systems that would not present a risk of putting “profits over people.”

The speakers also urged HCA’s leaders to address the public rather than issue statements through spokespeople.

“I call on all of HCA leadership – not just at the corporate level, but at the local level – they should be here in person,” Copelof said. “They should be answering to the people. That is what leadership is all about. And if that is not something that they are willing to do as leaders, then they are in the wrong job.”

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.