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Wednesday, 14 August 2013 12:58

Public hearing on future of Haywood hospital is next week

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A public hearing on the future of Haywood Regional Medical Center will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at the MedWest-Haywood Health & Fitness Center on the hospital campus.

 

The community will have a chance to speak up about the potential of the hospital being sold or irrevocably merged with larger hospital system, a course currently being explored by hospital leaders. 

Haywood Regional Medical Center is a public hospital authority, governed by a local hospital board appointed by county commissioners. 

Selling the hospital would mean a loss of autonomy and likely strip the county of any say over the hospital, but the backing of a larger hospital system could also bring more stable financial footing.

MedWest hospitals voted to entertain the idea of selling or merging with a larger hospital system in the spring and have solicited offers from any takers. The fact-finding mission was brought on by financial realities in a shifting healthcare landscape, one that has made it increasingly more difficult for smaller community hospitals to survive without being under the wing of a bigger system.

Almost everything is confidential right now — such as which hospitals have made offers, what those offers look like, and whether MedWest will split or stay together. But the leaders of MedWest were able to answer a few frequently asked questions the public may have in general about the process.

Does the fact that a public hearing is being held mean that the board has already arrived at a decision or that hospital leaders are leaning toward selling the hospital?

Not necessarily. State statute stipulates various steps that must be followed by public hospital authorities when considering a sale or conveyance of the hospital, and the public hearing is required at the outset of the process.

Would HRMC remain a public hospital authority if sold or transferred?

It could or could not, depending on the partnering option chosen.

Could just the operational side of HRMC be sold and not the bricks and mortar building, or is it possible to separate the two?

MedWest Health System is investigating multiple partnering options.

If it is sold for more than the outstanding debt, who gets the money? 

It is premature to discuss how proceeds, if any, would be distributed, according to MedWest leaders.

How does the process playing out at HRMC relate, or not relate, to the greater MedWest picture, namely MedWest-Harris and MedWest-Swain? 

The MedWest hospital system as a whole is exploring and studying its future options, including a sale or merger. But HRMC is the only one required to have a public hearing because it is the only one that is a public hospital authority. The others are private nonprofits.

Who will make the final decision — each of the respective hospitals or the umbrella MedWest board?

The MedWest board. In the case of HRMC, the Haywood County commissioners must vote to approve a sale, merger or transfer of the hospital given its public status.

Will the public have another opportunity to weigh in once more is known about the direction the hospital board is leaning? 

Yes. State statute stipulates the process that must be followed in the event a public hospital authority is sold, transferred or disposed of, and it includes more public hearings and disclosures.

What, if anything, does the public hearing coming up in Haywood have to do with the WestCare side of MedWest, and will WestCare have a public hearing also?

While WestCare is not bound by a public hearing process as part of the selection of a capital partner, WestCare CEO Steve Heatherly said they are committed to transparency within the communities they serve. We will share information as it becomes publicly available within the scope of the confidentiality agreements currently in place.

Will WestCare and HRMC take the same future direction at the end of this process, or could the two sides of MedWest theoretically come to different conclusions about the direction they want to go?

All options are being considered. All parties understand that any specific solution must meet with supermajority approval of the MedWest Board. There is consensus that both WestCare and Haywood will ideally be put in the best possible position to serve their communities as intended, whatever structure emerges from the process.

Have any decisions been made? Is MedWest board leaning a certain way? If not, when is a decision expected?

It is too early in the process to comment, according to MedWest leaders.

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