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Hospital hopes to heal itself by hooking up

The straw that broke Haywood Regional Medical Center’s back — February’s Medicare and Medicaid decertification after the death of a 37-year-old woman was linked to a medication error — might be the one that gets it up and around again. The crisis nudged the hospital, which gets more than 60% of its $128 million top line from federal insurance programs, to look for a bigger, richer partner. Choices? Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System, Winston-Salem-based Novant Health and Asheville-based Mission Health System. “It — decertification — was the impetus,” CEO Mike Poore says. “It got us going.”

Problems began after the death and an inspection in January that found the level of medication errors unacceptable. Loss of patients forced the hospital, whose roughly 900 employees made it Haywood County’s third-largest employer, to cut hours for all staffers and order two-week layoffs for more than 100.

Certification was restored in May, but not before the 170-bed hospital in Clyde had drained its reserves, been abandoned by major private insurers — most are now back — and undergone an upheaval that saw several top executives and its board chairwoman resign. Poore succeeded interim CEO Al Byers in October. He says Haywood Regional and WestCare Health System, which covers neighboring Graham, Swain, Jackson and Macon counties, have asked the three larger health systems to submit proposals by mid-January.

Like most small, rural hospital systems, these two are struggling with the high costs of medical technology and staffing and pressure from insurers. “Decertification was a big hit to our reserves, and what we’re trying to do now is work for the future,” Poore says. “There’s not an imminent issue that we have to merge, but access to capital will continue to be an issue, along with the ability to contract with third-party payers.”

Hospitals have long complained that giant managed-care insurers force them to operate with little or no profit. At the same time, insurers and patients demand expensive technology. “It’s hard to carry that overhead in a single hospital in a rural setting,” Poore says. But why hook up with a neighboring hospital system, WestCare, to ask even bigger systems for a deal?

Partly payback. WestCare absorbed many of Haywood Regional’s patients and physicians when Haywood lost the federal programs. “WestCare is our neighbor, and during our tribulations, it was very supportive,” Poore says. “Our boards began these discussions during that time.” Then they borrowed a page from the insurers that were strong-arming both. “There’s strength in numbers.”

LENOIR — The City Council and Caldwell County commissioners agreed to pay $2 million to St. Louis-based Furniture Brands Internationalas an incentive to consolidate Broyhill Furniture Industries’ upholstery manufacturing here. It will employ about 670 in the first quarter and plans to add more than 400 jobs within three years.

FOREST CITYMako Marine International will close its boat factory here by the end of the year, idling about 125 workers. The Springfield, Mo., company blamed the poor economy.

OLD FORTInternational Automotive Components laid off 60 of nearly 570 employees at its plant here. The Dearborn, Mich.-based company cited the slowdown in the auto industry. IAC acquired the plant, which makes carpet for automobiles, from Collins & Aikman in October 2007.

BANNER ELK — Raleigh-based Curtis Media Group bid $2.3 million to buy six radio stations in the region from Aisling Broadcasting, which went into court receivership earlier this year. Curtis owns 19 stations. The deal requires approval from a judge and the Federal Communications Commission, which could take until the end of the year.

LYNNGrover Industries; closed its yarn plant here, idling about 30. The company, based in the Cleveland County town it is named for, blamed overseas competition. It hopes to sell the 50,000-square-foot building.

BLACK MOUNTAINFLS Energy, which designs and installs solar-energy systems, plans to open a solar farm on seven acres in Canton next year. It will produce about 1.6 million kilowatts of electricity a year, enough to power about 1,100 homes, and sell the power to Raleigh-based Progress Energy.

BOONE — Donations to Appalachian State University reached a record $24.7 million last fiscal year, nearly double the amount the year before. The success of the school’s football team, which won its third straight national championship in its division, played a part, officials believe.