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Posts published by “Peter Lewis”

Asheville Watchdog Reporter Kestin Wins National Investigative Journalism Award

Asheville Watchdog reporter Sally Kestin’s multi-part series Equity Erased was honored with a “Best Investigative Journalism” award Wednesday night by the national Institute for Nonprofit News.

The series, which is continuing, documents how Buncombe County homeowners lost years and sometimes generations of equity to Asheville real estate investor Robert Perry Tucker II and his associates.

As a result of Kestin’s investigations, Lisa K. Roberts, a Tucker associate, was arrested and charged with 41 felony fraud and forgery counts. Roberts’s Asheville attorney, Ile O. Adaramola, was also arrested and charged with six felony notary fraud charges. Their cases are pending.

The Watchdog series prompted investigations by the North Carolina Secretary of State and the North Carolina Attorney General. It also focused legislative attention on an obscure law in North Carolina that allows investors to force the sale of vulnerable properties and buy them at significantly below market value.

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Novant Offer for Mission Matched HCA Bid, Former Top Exec Says

Ex-CFO says he was excluded from negotiations

HCA Mission Hospital in Asheville

By PETER H. LEWIS

The Mission Health system could have been purchased by another nonprofit hospital chain in a deal that would have been at least as good if not better than the $1.5 billion sale that the hospital system’s board ultimately approved to HCA Healthcare in 2018, a former top Mission executive now says.

The sale to HCA was “significantly detrimental” to the community, said Charles F. Ayscue, who was Mission’s top financial executive from 2007 to 2018. Ayscue broke the cone of silence that has surrounded the highly controversial Mission sale by writing a letter in support of Novant Health’s application to be awarded 67 new acute care hospital beds in Buncombe County.

Ayscue is now working for Novant as an independent contractor. 

The letter includes stunning new revelations about the HCA deal,

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The Watchdog welcomes 2 to news team

Asheville Watchdog proudly welcomes reporter Scott Carroll and engagement editor John Shore to our news team.

Scott Carroll, a Report for America corps member, will join Asheville Watchdog June 1 to cover reparations, homelessness, and social justice issues.

An accomplished newspaper reporter and editor, Carroll comes to Asheville from The News-Review in Roseburg, Oregon, where he won five first-place awards in the 2021 Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association contest, including Best Writer and Best Story.

Before that, Carroll worked for 17 years at The Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune. As the Herald-Tribune’s projects editor, his reporting teams won awards from numerous organizations and publications, including Editor & Publisher, Associated Press, American Society of News Editors, Society of Features Journalism, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors,

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Attorney General’s Office Had ‘Great Concerns’ Mission-HCA Deal Was Rigged ‘From the Beginning’

2018 Memo Says “Deck Had Been Stacked” by Then-CEO

Then-CEO Ronald A. Paulus of Mission Health

The North Carolina attorney general’s office had “great concerns about how HCA was selected” as the purchaser of the Mission Health System, including that “the deck had been stacked in its favor from the beginning” by then-CEO Ronald A. Paulus and his advisor Philip D. Green, according to a 2018 internal document obtained by Asheville Watchdog.

“[W]ith no outside advice other than Phil Green,” whom the investigators wrote had an undisclosed “prior business relationship with HCA,” Mission Health’s board of directors decided not to issue requests for competitive bids or to hold an auction before agreeing to sell Asheville’s flagship hospital system to HCA Healthcare for $1.5 billion, according to the document, prepared in advance of a meeting between Department of Justice lawyers and HCA representatives on Oct. 30, 2018.

Instead, as Paulus “coached HCA behind the scenes on how to best present its case to the Mission Board,” the board invited only one other healthcare company — identified in other documents as Novant Health of Winston-Salem — to present a formal offer. 

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COVID Surge Forces Mission Hospital to Halt Elective Surgeries; Emergency Services Still Open

Hospital "challenged" as more healthcare staff enter quarantine, memo says

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

Staggered by COVID-19 infections, both among incoming patients and its own healthcare staff, Mission Hospital in Asheville is postponing scheduled surgeries at the main hospital and will admit emergency and critically ill patients only after a case-by-case review, hospital administrators said Tuesday.

“Beginning this Wednesday, January 26, 2022, the Mission operating room and other procedural areas in the hospital (Endoscopy, cath lab, IR, and others) will only proceed with urgent and emergent cases,” Chad Patrick, chief executive of Mission Hospital, wrote in a confidential memo to staff dated Jan. 25.

“We will continue to evaluate daily on a case-by-case scenario,” the staff memo, obtained by Asheville Watchdog, continued. “Any urgent/emergent case where the patient has not already been admitted, but will require a hospital bed, needs approval by multidisciplinary hospital leadership.”

“The ASC will remain open at this time but we will continue to closely monitor and may need to adjust depending on patient needs,” the memo said,

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Hospitals Curtail Services as COVID Cases Surge to Record Levels

Unvaccinated patients fill beds as hospital workers fall ill

Slide presentation by Dr. William Hathaway, chief medical officer of HCA Mission. The latest surge began just after Christmas. // Screengrab, with added arrow, by Asheville Watchdog

Local hospitals, including Mission, are once again reeling under a perfect storm of pandemic pressures: record infection rates, overwhelmingly among people who refuse to be vaccinated; a sudden spike in the number of healthcare workers who are infected, on top of an already critical staffing shortage; and a shortage of COVID-19 test kits.

The latest surge began Dec. 27, following Christmas gatherings, William Hathaway, Mission’s chief medical officer, reported to the hospital’s medical staff on Monday. Children and people under the age of 44 are among the fastest-growing groups of patients, he said, and the rise in infected doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers who care for them was almost literally off the charts.

State and local official reports indicate that there are now more COVID-19 infections in the Asheville metropolitan area than at any time since the pandemic began two years ago.

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New Report Sounds Alarm on Affordable Housing — Again

Region needs 20,000 units to meet demand; gap is widest in Buncombe

The need for affordable housing in western North Carolina is getting more severe, a new study commissioned by the Dogwood Health Trust found.

By 2025 the region will need 20,000 more units for lower-income households, the study found, with 70 percent, or 14,000, of those new units needed in just three counties: Buncombe, Henderson, and Haywood.

The study, by Bowen National Research, conducted in the first six months of 2021 and presented to the Dogwood Trust last month, also found that:

  • Nearly half of all households in Buncombe County (48.5 percent) were already “cost-burdened,” meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of income toward housing; nearly two in five households in Buncombe are “severely” cost-burdened, paying half or more of all income to meet housing costs.
  • Ninety-two percent of regional employers say the shortage of affordable housing is causing problems in attracting new workers,

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Asheville Watchdog Is Selected As Journalism Service Program Host

Local nonprofit news team to add full-time reparations beat reporter in 2022

Report for America, a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities, today named Asheville Watchdog a host newsroom for 2022 and 2023. The award will help support a full-time reporter — Asheville Watchdog‘s first full-time paid employee — to cover topics related to Asheville’s and Buncombe County’s 2020 commitments for reparations to the region’s Black communities.

“We’re grateful to Report for America and to The GroundTruth Project for selecting Asheville Watchdog for this honor,” said Bob Gremillion, publisher. “And we’re especially grateful for the support of our donors in the local community, whose generosity gives us the resources we need to participate in the program. We look forward to welcoming our new reporter to Asheville.”

Asheville Watchdog was selected from among scores of applicants for the Report for America host program,

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On Guard in Asheville

Asheville Watchdog is powered by a cadre of accomplished journalists who retired to the North Carolina mountains.

Asheville Watchdogs, from left: Tom Fiedler, Sally Kestin, and Bob Gremillion

[Editor's Note: This article first appeared Nov. 18 in The Assembly, a digital magazine about the people, institutions, and ideas that shape North Carolina. It is reprinted here with permission.]

The view from the deck stretches past a wall of changing trees to the jagged ridge of the Blue Ridge mountains. On a rainy afternoon in October, the sun had just begun teasing its way through the clouds. 

Tucked in the hills of north Asheville, the deck is at the home of Sally Kestin and her husband, Bob Gremillion. They were joined that day by three other retired journalists, transforming the deck into a sort of newsroom for a digital venture that’s not only filling gaps in western North Carolina journalism, but trying to become a model in the state’s rapidly changing media environment.

Kestin and Gremillion started the Asheville Watchdog in early 2020.

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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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