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Posts published by “BARBARA DURR”

In Woodfin, the Balance of Power Is Shifting

New commissioners promise transparency, modernization

Last November’s election in Woodfin, Asheville’s sleepy northern neighbor, came at a time of major transformation. The town’s population has more than doubled since 2000 — it is now home to 8,000 people — and Woodfin is attracting keen interest from developers. 

The proposed Bluffs at Riverbend, a large mixed-use development on pristine forest west of the French Broad River, rallied residents. Voters turned out in record numbers, tossing out three incumbents who had governed the town for a decade or more.

Their three replacements, Jim McAllister, Eric Edgerton, and Hazel Thornton, were backed by the Sierra Club and promised to protect the town’s green spaces and steep slopes with responsible, environmentally sensitive development. Two others with similar positions, Judy Butler and Betsy Ervin, were appointed to fill vacancies, giving the Town Commission a solid majority and shifting power from longtime Woodfin residents to a group of mostly retired professionals who are relatively recent arrivals in town. 

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Woodfin Development Controversy 2.0

New Proposal Replaces Controversial Bluffs Project

By BARBARA DURR, Asheville Watchdog 

Just as the new reform-minded commissioners of the town of Woodfin — now a solid majority — have settled into governing, a fresh controversy is brewing. A new application for a housing development on the site of what was the highly contentious Bluffs proposal has been submitted by a different group of real estate investors. 

The application from Concept Companies of Gainesville, Fla., submitted to the town Aug. 5, proposes a smaller development of 672 multi-family apartments with three clubhouses called “Mountain Village.” The controversial Bluffs at Riverbend, with some 1,500 rental units, a 250-room hotel, and commercial space, was vehemently opposed by residents of Woodfin and the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Asheville.  

A coalition of neighbors from Asheville and Woodfin,

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Angered and Dissatisfied, Some Mission Patients Seek Healthcare Elsewhere

Hospital's formerly stellar reputation attracted people to region

They chose Asheville to live out their retirement years, drawn to the area not just for the mountains, the food, and the culture, but also for the safety net of a healthcare system considered one of the best in the country.

The flagship Mission Hospital provided a level of care that helped put Asheville on national lists as one of the top places to retire. One in five Buncombe County residents is now 65 or older. As recently as 2018, for the sixth time in the previous seven years, Mission Health was named one of the nation’s Top 15 Health Systems by IBM Watson Health.

But also in 2018, in a surprise decision, Mission’s board of directors voted to sell the successful nonprofit to HCA Healthcare — the largest for-profit hospital chain in the U.S., with a reputation for cost-cutting and skimping on staff.

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Mission Nurses Overburdened, Patients Suffer

‘Oh My God, I Never Expected to Have This Many Patients’

One nurse on a surgical floor at Mission Hospital reported “patients lying in stool for an unknown amount of time,” pain medications and insulin being administered late, and “irate family members.”

A nurse caring for the sickest patients on a surgical floor at Mission documented “delayed and missed medications due to RNs having 7-8 patients … Inadequate staffing led to patient fall.”

Still another nurse on an intensive care and cardiac care unit reported an “inability to care for critically ill patients at appropriate high level,” resulting in an increased risk of possibly serious harm to patients.

The alarming concerns were reported by nurses on forms known as Assignment Despite Objection (ADO), a formal complaint system developed by the labor union representing Mission nurses to document unsafe assignments that, in their professional judgment, put patients at risk. The forms are completed only after the nurses have informed their supervisors with no resolution.

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How Many Doctors Have Left Mission? HCA Won’t Say

Watchdog counts 223 departures since takeover in 2019

Two prominent physician groups quit the Mission Health system in the first two weeks of the year, the latest in an exodus from the hospital since its sale three years ago to for-profit HCA Healthcare.

The seven doctors at Asheville Ear, Nose & Throat “decided to no longer provide medical or surgical care at Mission Hospital or Asheville Surgery Center,” as of Jan. 1, they wrote in a letter to their patients.

Also on Jan. 1, the 10 surgeons at Carolina Spine & Neurosurgery Center parted ways with Mission and joined UNC Health’s Margaret R. Pardee Memorial Hospital in Hendersonville. They retain privileges to practice at Mission.

HCA declined repeated requests for the number of doctors who have left the Mission system since it took over in February 2019 and refuses to say how many doctors are on staff today,

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Quality of Care Concerns Rise at Mission Hospital

Patients, Staff Challenge HCA Management

Mission Hospital Emergency Department in Asheville // Peter H. Lewis photo

[Editor’s Note: This story has been modified since its original publication. A correction and clarification was added at the bottom to explain the changes.]

Forrest Johnson fell in her garden on April 22 and broke her leg in two places. Her husband and stepdaughter rushed the 68-year-old former nurse to the Mission Hospital emergency room in Asheville from their home near Burnsville, about an hour’s drive. They arrived around 8 p.m.

Having spent 20 years in nursing, Johnson said, “I sort of knew what to expect.” But what she did not expect was that she would lie for nearly six hours in the emergency room without water, ice, a blanket, a pillow to elevate her leg, food, or pain medication. 

Forrest Johnson

“I just had a very busy nurse,” Johnson said.

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Black Home Ownership and the Promise of Reparations

For many, Asheville's "urban renewal" ended the American Dream

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson surveys her childhood Southside neighborhood near New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Urban renewal "destroyed" a thriving community, she said.

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson looked across the empty fields where her Southside neighborhood once thrived. “It’s all gone,” she said. “One thousand two hundred businesses and homes were lost.” 

The neighborhood, where approximately half of Asheville’s Black population lived, suffered major upheaval under Asheville’s urban renewal program in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the largest urban renewal projects in the Southeastern United States. 

Ndiaye Robinson’s memories of childhood delights — a neighbor’s cupcakes, playing with chickens, charging up the grassy hills — are tainted by sadness and umbrage at what happened. “It broke up a loving community. It tore up families,” she recalled.

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson

For Asheville’s Black residents it, urban renewal also undercut the foundation of generational wealth and dashed a revered piece of the American Dream. Predominantly Black neighborhoods were razed to make way for proposed highways or real estate ventures,

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Reparations, Six Months Later: So Far, Empty Promises

Asheville’s Dwindling Black Population Remains Skeptical

Valley Street, ca. 1949. Photo by Juanita Wilson

Six months ago, as part of a reckoning on racial injustice, the City of Asheville and Buncombe County both passed resolutions to consider reparations to the Black community as a way to begin making amends for slavery and generations of systemic discrimination. The votes were hailed as “historic” by The Asheville Citizen Times, and ABC News asked, “Is Asheville a national model?”

Since then, local officials concede, little has been done. Some in the Black community see zero progress.

“From my understanding, they’ve done nothing,” said Rob Thomas, community liaison for the Racial Justice Coalition. 

Despite the fanfare they received at the time, the reparations resolutions are in limbo, still as lacking in specific remedies as they are in financial commitment or engagement with the Black community. The Asheville resolution called for the creation of a Community Reparations Commission to begin drafting recommendations.

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