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Wednesday, 11 May 2011 20:23

Angel close to merger with Mission if state bill stays at bay

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The pending merger of Angel Medical Center with Mission Health System could be sidelined, at least temporarily, by a state bill aimed at limiting Mission’s influence in the region.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, said he introduced the bill to offer a check on what he sees as a monopoly by Mission.

It would halt an affiliation between Mission and Angel that has been in the works for more than a year and is now close to a final deal.

“Right now it is in Angel’s court. We are certainly hoping within the next month,” said Janet Moore, director of communications at Mission.

Angel CEO Tim Hubbs said the decision of who Angel will affiliated with should rest with the people of Macon County, not Raleigh lawmakers.

“I have spoken to dozens of long term residents in our area that are outraged by the bill and are very upset with Senator Davis,” Hubbs said.

Hubbs said the bill was a shock.

“We were blindsided by it,” Hubbs said.

Davis met with Hubbs and key hospital leadership a couple of weeks ago to hear their concerns.

“He said the last thing he wanted to do was hurt Angel,” Hubbs said. But Davis has not withdrawn the bill or altered its language.

It is unclear just how much traction the bill has. Mission and Angel may complete their deal before the bill has a chance to move forward.

Davis suggests Mission could exploit its monopoly status to hoard health care services, limiting care patients can get locally and making them drive to Asheville.

But Davis’ bill would cause exactly that to happen, Hubbs said.

Mission will bring more health care service to Franklin, not less, Hubbs said. And without Mission, Angel may actually have to scale back what it provides, having the limiting effect Davis’ claims he doesn’t want.

“I think he has good intentions but the bill ironically would have the opposite effect,” said Trentham. “What he is trying to do ironically will limit free market choice.”

A partnership with Mission will make it easier to recruit doctors, bringing more specialties to Angel. Specialists from Asheville already hold occasional office days in Franklin if the services can’t already be found there.

“Mission and Angel have partnered for a very, very long time. We have been able to bring specialists and subspecialists to enhance what the community already has,” Moore said.

Angel most stands to gain financially. It will get better rates from insurance companies, can get more competitive prices on medical supplies and equipment due to bulk purchasing power, and tap Mission’s expertise on the complicated world of hospital administration and regulations.

“We aren’t to the point where we can’t survive without it, but we are definitely stronger with an affiliation,” Hubbs said.

Davis agreed Angel should be able to align with Mission if it wants to.

“I am not trying to stand I the way of that,” Davis said.

Davis said he understands why small hospitals need to be tied to a larger institution. Angel has 25 beds, and has 16 patients a day on average.

“The small ones just can’t survive by themselves,” Davis said.

But Davis’ bill would halt the merger for at least a year until the issue of Mission’s monopoly can be studied.

Hubbs last month announced he would retire in the next six months, altering solidifying the deal with Mission. That may be delayed now, too.

“I will stay here until we get some thing on the right footing,” said Hubbs.

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