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.