No one from the community showed up to a public hearing on the hospital sale this week at the county commissioners meeting.
While there were 20 or so people in the audience, they were all there in their official roles as hospital officials and board members. There was just one speaker, but she was also there in an official capacity as the head of the hospital’s nonprofit foundation.
But it’s not surprising that the process playing out with county commissioners is attracting so little attention.
While county commissioners have the final say on selling the hospital, they have already signaled their unanimous support for selling it to Duke LifePoint.
Now, it is simply a matter of going through the motions.
Since Haywood Regional was founded as a public, county-owned hospital, the county commissioners must approve its sale. The county must follow statutory requirements for public input and public disclosure, including waiting periods between the announcement of the sale, the first public hearing and a second public hearing. The waiting periods, intended to give the public a chance to weigh in on the possible sale of the public hospital, mean the formal vote by commissioners won’t happen until February.
The Haywood Regional Medical Center board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of the sale last month. The hospital board is following the same statutory requirements as the county commissioners, although in a parallel but separate process. The hospital’s public hearing drew a crowd of more than 200 people, a stark contrast to the one held by county commissioners, who are being viewed somewhat as a rubbe stamp on the hospital’s decision.
The hospital and Duke LifePoint are now in a due diligence phase, however, with plans to finalize the transaction by the end of March.
Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva and Swain Medical Center are also being bought by Duke Life Point.
The official name of Haywood Regional Medical Center was changed to MedWest-Haywood four years ago when the hospitals in Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties forged an operating partnership. MedWest was tacked on the front of each hospital’s name in an attempt to link the hospitals under a single brand in the public’s mind.
But it didn’t go over very well. The public largely rejected the new nomenclature of MedWest-Haywood and MedWest-Harris. It is now likely the hospitals’ former names will once again be their official name of record.
Duke LifePoint almost never changes the names of the hospitals it buys unless there is a serious perception or public image problem.