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AVL Watchdog

Pandemic Is Financial Bonanza for HCA

CEO says "disciplined operating culture" enabled record earnings

Nashville-based HCA Healthcare, which operates Asheville’s Mission Hospital and five other hospitals in Western North Carolina, reported Friday that it made $2.27 billion in profits in the three-month period that ended Sept. 30, triple the amount in the same period last year.

The record earnings coincided with the summer surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations caused by the Delta variant. HCA said COVID patients accounted for 13 percent of all admissions to the chain’s 183 hospitals during the period.

Shares of HCA’s stock have also tripled in price since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than 20 months ago, creating a financial bonanza for investors and company executives. HCA is the largest employer in Asheville.

Samuel N. Hazen, HCA’s chief executive officer, credited the company’s record profit margins to a “disciplined operating culture.” He said HCA was on track to use its cash to buy back $8 billion in company stock in 2021.

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Cawthorn Pointedly Defies Laws Banning Weapons on School Property

In latest incident, a short dagger in his pants

Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaking Oct. 5 at Western Carolina University (photo: David Wheeler)

[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include yet another complaint, at end of story.]

For the second time in as many months, Rep. Madison Cawthorn faces a potential criminal complaint for carrying a weapon — in the latest incident, a “combat” automatic knife similar to a switchblade — in a public school building.  

The 26-year-old freshman Congressman was photographed Tuesday night at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee with the knife handle protruding from his pants pocket. 

Enlarged view of knife clip

It appeared to be a different knife than the one he was seen carrying three weeks ago during an appearance before the Henderson County Board of Education. That also prompted a citizen complaint to be filed with Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin. 

Griffin, a Republican,

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Batchelor Withdraws from GOP Primary Race to Replace Cawthorn in NC11

The field of challengers to Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn’s renomination narrowed Sunday with the withdrawal of Army veteran and Haywood County deputy sheriff Eric Batchelor.

Batchelor sent an email to supporters early Sunday announcing the suspension of his intra-party challenge to the first-term incumbent. But he added that his decision was intended to improve the chances of the remaining three announced challengers to stop Cawthorn from winning renomination as the Western North Carolina representative.

“With myself and three others challenging Cawthorn in the primary, the vote is split so that he will probably still emerge as the victor,” Batchelor wrote in an early-morning email. “I have met with two of the three remaining candidates and they understand the consequences of our high numbers as well.”

Under North Carolina election law, a candidate needs only 30 percent of the vote in a primary election to secure a party nomination. In a multi-candidate field,

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Alex Comfort Joins Asheville Watchdog Staff

Alex Comfort

Alex Comfort, a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), is joining Asheville Watchdog as director of fundraising programs for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit news organization. A fundraising professional for 35 years, Comfort was formerly Associate Vice Chancellor for Development at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, and has twice been named “Outstanding Fund Raising Executive” by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, first by the AFP chapter of Greater New Orleans in 1995, and then for the western North Carolina AFP chapter in 2010. 

He has also been a capital campaign field director for Ward, Dreshman & Reinhardt; Director of Development for Covenant House New Orleans; Vice President of the LSU Medical Center Foundation in New Orleans; and Executive Director of the Cradle of Forestry Interpretation Association in Brevard, North Carolina.

A consultant in fundraising since 2011, Comfort is a popular public speaker and has taught a “Fundraising Boot Camp” course in regional universities since 2013. He is the author of “Even a Blind Squirrel Finds an Occasional Acorn: Fundraising Tales from the Front Lines.”

Comfort graduated in history from Sewanee: The University of the South,

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Becky Tin Joins Board of Asheville Watchdog

Becky Tin

Becky Tin, a lawyer and former district court judge, has joined Asheville Watchdog’s Board of Directors. 

Tin, who divides her time between Asheville and Charlotte, was a Mecklenburg County District Court judge for 16 years, presiding over domestic violence cases, high-conflict divorces, landlord-tenant and other civil and criminal matters. 

She received the 2013 Women of Justice Award for Public Service from North Carolina Lawyers Weekly; was recognized as 2018 Judge of the Year by the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys; and received the 2019 John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award for exemplary service to the legal profession from the North Carolina State Bar. She also served on the North Carolina District Court Judges’ Education Committee with faculty from the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill, helping to design curriculum and lecturing at statewide judicial conferences.

Before her legal career,

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2 Quit Board of Transylvania Hospital, Saying ‘We Fear for Its Future’ under HCA

Parker Platt (left) and Mark Weinstein

Two long-time members of the Transylvania Regional Hospital board of directors resigned Monday, saying they were “embarrassed” to have supported the sale of the Mission Health System to giant HCA Healthcare and that they now fear for the future of the Brevard-based community hospital under HCA’s profit-driven management.

In an open letter to The Transylvania Times, the board members, Parker Platt and Mark Weinstein, said they had been sidelined and rendered “powerless” and “voiceless” by the HCA-dominated board. “It is our hope that our resignations might have a more positive influence on the hospital’s future direction than if we remained on the board,” they wrote.

Asked by The Watchdog to comment on Platt’s and Weinstein’s resignations, a hospital spokeswoman said, “We thank them for their service.”

The resignations highlight growing community dissatisfaction with HCA’s operation of the 92-bed,

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Trish Jones Joins Asheville Watchdog’s Board of Directors

Trish Jones

Trish Jones, a former senior executive at Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta, has joined Asheville Watchdog’s Board of Directors. As director she will help oversee overall direction and strategy of the year-old nonprofit news organization.

Jones, a resident of Asheville, was senior director of business planning at the Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta before joining Turner. At Turner she held roles as executive vice president and general counsel of Turner Broadcasting International and deputy general counsel of the Turner organization. She went on to become senior vice president and chief emerging technologies officer.

A graduate of Spring Hill College and the University of Richmond School of Law, she earned a master’s degree in international law at Georgetown University Law Center. She is a member of the Virginia and Georgia state bar associations.

Jones is also a director of the National Center for Women &

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COVID Surge: 51 Dead in August. ‘We’re running out of ambulances’

Record Number of Cases Reported at Mission

Death certificate for one of 24 COVID victims who died at Mission in late August

Jessica Vaughn, a 33-year-old mother of five, was found dead in her Asheville apartment. The cause: COVID-19.

Brianna Justus, a 31-year-old expectant mother, went from healthy to COVID intensive care patient at Mission Hospital in less than a week. Her baby, delivered by emergency cesarean section, survived. Brianna Justus did not.

Thomas Turner of West Asheville waited nearly two hours at an urgent care center without being seen before driving himself to Mission, his family said. He never made it inside. Turner, 59, died in the parking lot while his wife, who also had COVID, was being treated in the emergency room.

Their deaths are just a few from a current surge that is overwhelming Buncombe County’s health care system, taxing already exhausted doctors and nurses, and afflicting a large swath of Western North Carolina in numbers not seen since the pre-vaccine pandemic peak.

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“It’s going to lead to one place … bloodshed.” What Madison Cawthorn said to supporters

“We need to be storing up some ammunition,” Congressman says

Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaks to Macon County GOP supporters on Aug. 29 (YouTube)

Congressman Madison Cawthorn, Republican representing western North Carolina, spoke this week to Macon County Republicans in Franklin. The organizer estimated the crowd at more than 200 people. The Macon County Republican Party posted a 1-hour, 28-minute video on its Facebook page, but removed it after Cawthorn’s remarks attracted nationwide scrutiny. A copy of the video can be found on YouTube here.

During remarks that were frequently interrupted with applause and cheers from the overwhelmingly white, unmasked crowd, Cawthorn, holding a shotgun he was asked to sign, says the Second Amendment is not for hunting or target shooting but rather for fighting tyranny. He advises the crowd to begin stockpiling ammunition for what he says is likely American-versus-American “bloodshed” over unfavorable election results.

He repeats his claims that the American election system is “rigged” and that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Donald Trump,

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The Man Who Would Be Sheriff: Buncombe Candidate Vows to Make Everything Right

“The biggest terrorist organization right now is the United States government"

David Hurley, candidate for Buncombe County Sheriff, speaks to supporters in Asheville

[This article has been modified since it was originally published. A correction notice has been added.]

Under a Carolina-blue sky, shaded by the oaks framing Pack Square, the small crowd formed a loose, attentive circle around a man speaking and gesticulating with the fervor of a revivalist. This was David Hurley, 37, a candidate to become the Buncombe county sheriff in 2022. 

But, he told the crowd, he wouldn’t be your typical sheriff. 

Hurley described a “constitutional sheriff,” a kind of super authority who would reign supreme over all law enforcement, more powerful than mayors, county commissioners, the governor and — when it came to local matters — even the president.

“The sheriff is the ultimate power in America,” Hurley declared, pacing inside the circle. “It’s been the best-kept secret that they didn’t want to get out.

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