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HCA-Mission progress report unveiled
Sunday, 03 November 2019 14:02

N.C. division chief details massive investment in near-future projects

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An update on progress following the recent HCA Healthcare-Mission Health merger was provided to the Council of Independent Business Owners on Oct. 4 in UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

About 75 people attended the early-morning monthly issues meeting that included breakfast, followed by three presentations. (Separate stories on the other addresses appear on pages A4-A5.)

Among the elected officials attending but not scheduled to give addresses was Amanda Edwards, a member of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Her presence, along with that of those scheduled to speak, was recognized by meeting emcee Buzzy Cannad, who is CIBO’s president.

Speaking first was Greg Lowe, president of the Asheville-based North Carolina Division of HCA Healthcare, who gave an update on the HCA-Mission Health merger transition. 

He also touted the new hospital building — the North Tower on Mission’s main campus — scheduled to open the next day.Mission, which bills itself as providing “130-plus years of service throughout Western North Carolina,” is the state’s sixth-largest health system based in Asheville.

Prior to his address, Lowe was introduced to CIBO by Terence van Arkel, who recently was named chief financial officer of HCA’s North Carolina division.

Lowe, who was hired in February, said he will oversee a division comprised of a six-hospital system, surgery centers and other facilities HCA purchased from Asheville-based Mission Healthcare in 2018.

HCA’s North Carolina division, with an 18-county service area, six acute care hospitals, surgery centers and other facilities (and a 50 percent market share), includes the following:

• Angel Medical Center
• Asheville Specialty Hospital
• Blue Ridge Regional Hospital
• CarePartners
• Highlands-Cashiers Hospital
• Mission Children’s Hospital
• Mission Hospital
• Mission Hospital McDowell
• Transylvania Regional Hospital)
• Reuters Children’s Hospital
• Fullerton Genetics Lab

Lowe was previously chief executive officer of two HCA hospitals in Richmond, Va. He replaces Mission President and CEO Ron Paulus, MD, who, following the merger, is transitioning into a strategic adviser role.

HCA purchased Asheville-based Mission Healthcare in 2018.

Lowe said he feels “very blessed with what we have going on” and he promised the CIBO attendees to limit himself to just “a quick overview about all that’s going on” with the hospital system.

He added, “HCA has 185 hospitals across the country” and “quite a few hospitals in the UK (United Kingdom).” HCA is “split into two parts — American and international groups.”

His division includes more than 1,000 licensed beds, around 1,200 providers, about 3,300 nurses, about 12,000 employees and about 2,000 volunteers.

Lowe also said, pointedly, that HCA’s North Carolina division features “16 competitor hospitals... People say this is not a competitive market. I’d that is untrue. We have 16 competitor hospitals that we work with... Very nice relationships exist with our competitors.”

Next, Lowe told of the official opening of the North Tower on Mission’s main campus.

“Big news,” Lowe said, with a smile, “We move into our new tower – the Mission Hospital North Tower. This opens tomorrow. This has taken years. … This is one of the most technologically advanced buildings I’ve been in....”

Lowe described the North Tower as “12 stories (high), 600,00 square feet, 220 patient rooms, 97 beds in the emergency department, 90 pre-post bays… We have a very busy ER (emergency room).

“Now everything will come through one entrance,” Lowe said. The emergency department will be “twice the size of what’s there now.”

He added, “This is a massive ($400 million) investment… This has been running in the background for the last six weeks… to make sure it all works… I’m sure there will be a few kinks, but we will get them worked out before it opens ‘live’ Monday.”

At that point, Lowe spoke about training physicians and staff, noting that “HCA Healthcare is the largest provider of graduate medical education in the country. We absolutely love MAHEC. Currently, we have 88 residents that MAHEC trained.“We now have the ability to accelerate the training of physicians in this market... In Western North Carolina, we have a shortage of physicians....

"We know, statistically speaking, that physicians who are trained in a certain area, tend to stay in that area.

“So what does that mean for us? This year, we’ve already received approval to expand our psychiatry residency by eight physicians, and we are working on others — 14 residents in internal medicine,…. general surgery and trauma...:

On other health-system-related topics, Lowe said that, regarding high-risk pregnancies, “Currently, we only have two maternal fetal care physicians. We easily could keep five busy full-time. This is why it’s so important for us to train locally.

He also spoke of the importance of expanding vascular care and, “with the opioid crisis, addiction care” in the division.“

So you can see, this is a massive investment we (HCA) will be making this year and beyond, just for the training of physicians. By training these physicians and keeping them here, we can help” those who need it in WNC.

In addition, Lowe noted that the division is developing “tele-health in WNC… because of the geographic challenges of the area.” Under that system, technology, including telephones and computers can be used to provide service to those in distant locales.

For example, he said, “You just can’t have certain specialists out in Spruce Pine...”

Further, Lowe said that, as reported, “$1.5 billion (that HCA paid to purchase the Mission system) is going into the Dogwood Trust…..

“I wish they’d be distributing those dollars now. But it will be just months from now. ...We’re excited about that.”

Among the many other capital investment projects he reviewed are $11 million in parking structures improvements and $8 million in physician practice upgrades.

Also, he said, “When we (soon) choose among four plots of land, we are building a new 120-bed behaviorial health hospital, with space for expansion in the future, as needed....

“We are bringing in new technology,” Lowe said in conluding his talk. “We’ve brought in 72 new physicians this year.”

During a brief question-and-answer period that followed, a man asked, “Could you estimate the number of new physicians who will be coming into our community each year?'

”“We have new physicians coming in almost every night,” Lowe said. “Forty have signed” since February. “I’d like to see us sign another 70 physicians between now and next year because I see the need is that great. So the sky is the limit right now. But we want to make sure we have the right physicians who will meet the needs of the physicians.”

Another man asked, “Given that many emergency conditions, what are you doing with your EMS (Emergency Medical Services) teams?"

“We have a lot of people dedicated just to moving patients to St. Joe’s (campus) across the street,” Lowe replied. “Once we build a new behavioral health hospital,” that situation will change. “We will then decide what to do with St. Joe’s,” Lowe sdded.

“We will most likely take that down. But that’s a long way down the road,” Lowe said.

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