• Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine will soon be owned by Nashville, Tennessee-based for-profit Hospital Corporation of America.
    Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine will soon be owned by Nashville, Tennessee-based for-profit Hospital Corporation of America.

Mission Health being bought by HCA

Board signs letter-of-intent to sell to Tennessee-based for-profit corporation

SPRUCE PINE – Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare Inc. is officially in the process of buying Mission Health. Mission’s board announced Wednesday, March 21, its letter-of-intent to sell to HCA in a news release.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

“The Board, all of whom are community members who care deeply about ensuring access to high-quality care for the people of western North Carolina for generations to come, is confident that HCA Healthcare is the right and best choice for Mission’s team members and providers, its patients and the communities we are privileged to serve,” said John Ball, chair of the Mission Health Board. “We are extremely excited about this unprecedented opportunity to create an even stronger cornerstone of value, access and quality.”

HCA was formed in 1968 by Dr. Thomas Frist Sr. and Dr. Thomas Frist Jr. The company currently operates 177 hospitals and 119 surgery centers in 20 states as well as the United Kingdom employing around 240,000 people. It is ranked No. 63 on the Fortune 500. The deal would give the company its first presence in North Carolina.

A component of the proposed purchase is the creation of new foundation with a focus on community health.

“HCA Healthcare is a leading healthcare operator that offers advantages on a scale that would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve otherwise,” said. “As important, the newly formed foundation will be life-changing for the residents of our region, providing tens of millions of dollars annually in new support for the most vulnerable.”

Blue Ridge Regional Hospital CEO Becky Carter said Friday in an interview with the News-Journal community members will comprise the 501(c)(3) foundation and its goal will be to not only re-invest in health-related matters but also projects involving food, schools, water and housing.

Elected officials were invited Wednesday, March 21, to participate in a conference call with HCA administrators facilitated by Carter. Mitchell County Board of Commissioners Chair Matthew “Vern” Grindstaff said the call explained the deal, which is a complete acquisition, and offered elected officials the opportunity to ask questions.

“One of my main concerns was whether the operating agreement for EMS services in the county between Mission and the county government would continue through HCA,” Grindstaff said. “I was not given a definite answer but I am under the impression it will be.”

The county government pays Mission $2 million annually for EMS services under the current contract. Grindstaff added one obvious benefit from the sale is the more than $270,000 per year the county will collect from property taxes for just the hospital building.

The hospital’s name will not be changed and leadership will remain. Any details about other employees were not discussed, Grindstaff said.

Carter said Friday in an interview with the News-Journal that HCA will not leave the county “high and dry” with regard to EMS services and she believes the current agreement will be honored.

Carter addressed another concern expressed by Grindstaff, which was how the buyout will affect patients, specifically Mission’s policy to allow patients to pay their bills through no-interest payment plans.

“HCA’s policy is actually more generous than Mission’s,” Carter said. “HCA offers reductions of 85 percent and greater up to 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which is very reasonable.”

As for employees, Carter said Mission’s model of being well-run at a low cost was attractive to HCA.

“HCA does not see a need to come in and manage operations,” Carter said. “Our employee base is solid and will stay in place. Mission is a new district for HCA and they want to see it operate successfully.”

The buyout agreement contains guarantees Cater called “generous,” she said HCA cannot change anything for five years and after that, there are strict guidelines in place.

Cater said 90-120 days have been allotted to do due diligence and sign the purchase agreement and another 90 days for regulatory review.

“In the best-case scenario, the deal will be complete by Oct. 1,” Carter said. “But more likely it will be completely in place by Jan. 1, 2019.”

The MItchell News

Mailing Address: PO Box 339 
Spruce Pine, NC 28777 
Phone: 828-765-7169
Fax: 828-765-1616