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Wednesday, 05 March 2008 00:00

Outpouring of support for HRMC

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By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Donning purple ribbons of support, members of the community came together Monday in a show of encouragement for the embattled Haywood Regional Medical Center, which is facing a financial crisis after losing its Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Speakers at two separate gatherings — the county commissioners meeting in the morning and a hospital board meeting in the afternoon — addressed audiences of more than 100 who packed both locations.

The message was clear — quit placing blame and get behind the hospital.

“Whatever issues that we have in this county right now with the hospital, I ask that we put those aside and join with the hospital to stand behind them,” said Bo Prevost, a 17-year hospital employee who retired as the manager of the social work department.

The attitude of the audience at the commissioners meeting surprised a seemingly relieved Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick.

“I came prepared to give some type of speech and say something about being careful not to cast stones, but I’ve been very surprised and happy with the comments made this morning,” he said.

Throughout the day, the community recounted positive experiences they’d had at HRMC.

There was the hospital staff member who summoned a minister for a scared woman about to enter surgery; the nurses who stayed with a patient over Christmas when no one came to pick her up; the X-ray technician who took a patient about to enter a nursing home for one last favorite sandwich at Bogart’s.

“I have to tell you from first-hand experience, this is a crème de la crème hospital,” said Marie Griffin, the patient who had a minister summoned by an orderly.

“The people I ran into were not only professional and focused, but they were interested in me as a person. They demonstrated that humanity,” agreed Griffin’s husband, John.

Commissioner Mary Ann Enloe, who visited the hospital recently, commended hospital staff for providing quality care even in the midst of the crisis.

“I was treated in a most professional way even as it seemed your world was coming down around you. The fear was on your face and in your voice, but you took care of me and I thank you for that,” she said.

Deborah Mann, an ICU nurse for 20 years, said the reason quality care is given is simple.

“We love the community, and we take care of the community because it’s our passion to do so,” she said.

“We” was a word used frequently Monday, evidence of the community’s solidarity and desire to work together to solve the problem.

“We will survive, we will get through this. When times get tough, we get tough,” said Scotty Setzer, director of the Haywood Regional Fitness Center.

Some used the metaphor of family to refer to the hospital and community.

“I love it. It’s been my life and my people. We’re all family together and what one does, it’s not just one person going down, it’s all of us. One person didn’t cause it and we’re all going to work together to get it back up,” said Pam Green, a long-time hospital employee.

“Haywood County has always been a big family,” agreed Commissioner Bill Upton. “Families fuss every now and then, but then we come together and decide we want to spend our time complaining about what went wrong. Let’s worry about solving the problem.”

Solving the problem quickly is imperative to the community, other commissioners said.

Kirkpatrick called the situation at HRMC “the worst crisis I’ve ever seen, because it has affected all the people in the county ... and that will continue until we get this fixed.”

“There’s no two ways about it This hospital crisis is as devastating to the people of Haywood County as any crisis in 200 years. It affects everybody,” Enloe agreed.

Some demanded transparency and accountability, which Enloe admitted hadn’t always been the case.

“The lack of transparency and accountability in the past on the part of some makes us want to place some blame,” she said.

“When it comes to administration, the public deserves transparency and accountability,” said Yvonne Gold, who as an employee of Haywood Community Connections works with many elderly people affected by the crisis.

“I hear you and I can assure everybody that we have a 100 percent commitment to transparency, cooperation and communication,” said hospital director of corporate relations Robin Tindall-Taylor.

Tindall-Taylor said, among other things, the hospital has set up an information hotline and has an address where people can set notes of encouragement that will be displayed on easels throughout HRMC.

Detractors of the hospital were hard to come by Monday. The words spoken were mostly ones of support, and a few even decried media attention of the crisis they called negative.

“What I earnestly wish is that the members of the news establishment ... would recognize the damage done to the hospital for the sake of a beautiful headline is not the task at hand. Report the news, report the facts and look at the progress made,” said John Griffin.

“I hope that the media coverage will cover several of the good things that go on in this hospital,” agreed Setzer.

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