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Wednesday, 28 October 2009 20:39

Hospital denies county commissioners a seat at the table

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Despite their requests, Haywood County commissioners will not be guaranteed a spot on the new joint operating board of Haywood Regional Medical Center and WestCare.

Commissioner Mark Swanger initially called for the seat to ensure transparency and accountability to the public, which has a vested stake in the hospital.

Commissioner Bill Upton said as an elected leader, they are the first ones to be blamed “if things go south.”

“I think it would keep us closer to the situation,” Upton said. “It makes a difference. I think it would be positive for all of us.”

When HRMC failed federal inspections two years ago and had to all but shut down for five months, commissioners were criticized for not providing enough oversight of HRMC. Two commissioners up for election that year lost, with backlash over the hospital crisis blamed as one of the reasons for their ousting by voters.

Commissioner Skeeter Curtis said the public still thinks of HRMC as “their” hospital, since county taxpayers backed a loan used for its construction, even though the hospital in fact paid back the loans and the public did not have to pony up any money.

HRMC CEO Mike Poore said he disagreed that a commissioner’s presence would somehow provide more transparency. Poore said the county commissioner serving on the board would not be able to share what was discussed by the joint hospital board outside its private meetings anyway.

“The county commissioner has no more authority to speak outside that meeting than anyone else,” Poore said. “They are not a county commissioner at that meeting. They are a member of the joint operating committee.”

Mark Clasby, chairman of the HRMC board, said giving a county commissioner a permanent seat at the table would have been a deal killer in the joint venture. Clasby added that commissioners can serve, and indeed one is on the inaugural board, but they aren’t guaranteed a spot going forward.

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