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All ‘A’s for local hospitals

Mission Hospital employees Erin Young (left ) and Lindsey Regner celebrate LeapFrog “A” safety grade // Mission photo

HCA-owned Mission Hospital in Asheville, Pardee UNC Health Care in Hendersonville, and AdventHealth Hendersonville all earned “A” grades in the Spring 2022 national hospital safety ratings by the nonprofit LeapFrog Group. Grades are updated twice annually, in the fall and spring, and for AdventHealth it was the 12th straight “A” grade.

Pardee’s score improved from a “B” in Fall 2021. Mission repeated its “A” score from Fall 2021, after getting a “B” in Spring 2021.

Mission Hospital McDowell in Marion also earned an “A” grade in the Spring 2022 ratings, but Haywood Regional Medical Center in Clyde, Rutherford Regional Medical Center in Rutherfordton, and Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva all collected “B” grades.

The Leapfrog Group assigns an “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” or “F” grade to all general hospitals across the country. The grade uses more than 30 measures of safety data including rates of preventable errors, injuries and infections, while also accounting for whether hospitals have systems in place to protect patients from harm.

Nationwide, 33 percent of nearly 3,000 general hospitals achieved “A” ratings. North Carolina ranked first among all states for the percentage of A-rated hospitals, with 59.8 percent of all general hospitals earning the top grade. — Peter H. Lewis

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Cawthorn Pulls a Fast One In Buncombe County Plea Deal

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC11)

Congressman Madison Cawthorn was able to dodge a serious speeding charge in Buncombe County by making a pre-trial plea deal with District Attorney Todd Williams just days before the State of Georgia alerted Williams’s office that Cawthorn’s license had been suspended as the result of a 2019 conviction for speeding and driving with an expired tag, Williams told Asheville Watchdog.

Meanwhile, Cawthorn was a no-show in Polk County court on Monday to face the second of three charges he’s collected in recent months for speeding and other alleged driving violations.

Last month Cawthorn, through a lawyer, pleaded guilty to a reduced speeding charge in Buncombe County after striking a plea deal with Williams and paying a fine. Cawthorn had been ticketed for driving 89 miles per hour in a 65 m.p.h. zone near Swannanoa in October. In return for the guilty plea, Williams agreed to reduce the charge to traveling just 74 miles per hour, a lesser infraction that allowed Cawthorn to keep his license without going to trial as scheduled on March 4.

But had he been aware of Cawthorn’s conviction in the December 2019 case in Clayton County, Georgia, Williams told Asheville Watchdog, he would not have agreed to offer the 26-year-old congressman the plea deal. The more serious charge could have resulted in Cawthorn facing up to 20 days in jail and fines up to $200. 

Although the Georgia speeding citation occurred in December 2019, it wasn’t settled until August 2021 when the conviction was entered and Cawthorn’s license was revoked. But, according to Williams, the State of Georgia didn’t report the revocation to North Carolina until February, after the pre-trial deal had already been reached with Williams’ office.

Williams said that when he learned of the Georgia revocation he inquired about reopening the case. But, he said, because Cawthorn had already paid the fine, the case was closed. Williams said the plea deal took advantage of what he called a “legal fiction” in North Carolina law where the driver can blame a faulty speedometer and receive leniency.

In the Polk County case, Cawthorn was ticketed in January for driving 87 miles per hour in a 70 m.p.h. zone, and ordered to face the charge in court April 18. But his lawyer, Gabrielle Valentine, appeared on Cawthorn’s behalf and successfully asked that the case be postponed until June 2. 

Valentine offered no reason for the requested delay and commented later that it was “routine.” Cawthorn’s press secretary, Luke Ball, did not respond to Asheville Watchdog’s request for an explanation of the delay and whether Cawthorn planned to contest the charge. 

The postponement means the case will not be heard until after the May 17 primary election, where the incumbent Cawthorn faces seven challengers in the Republican race to represent western North Carolina in Congress.

Cawthorn still faces a third court date for a charge on March 3 near Shelby in Cleveland County. That alleged violation occurred shortly after North Carolina had been notified that Cawthorn’s license had been revoked for speeding in Georgia. The state trooper stopped the congressman for swerving across the highway centerline, but charged him only with driving with the revoked license. That case is scheduled to be heard May 6, just days before the May 17 GOP primary.

The Cleveland County charge is a misdemeanor criminal offense that could result in a jail sentence of up to 20 days, as well as a fine of up to $200. — Tom Fiedler

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NC Justice Department Scolds HCA-Mission For High Prices, Declining Quality of Care

Greg Lowe

The North Carolina Department of Justice notified the Mission Health System last week that it was “extremely concerned” about ongoing citizen complaints over high prices, lack of transparency, anti-competitive behavior, chronic under-staffing, and declining quality of care at HCA-managed medical facilities in western North Carolina.  

In a letter to Greg Lowe, president of HCA Healthcare’s North Carolina division, Assistant Attorney General Llogan R. Walters wrote that his office was still receiving “troubling allegations regarding patients not receiving proper care, core functions being reduced and not replaced, and subpar conditions regarding basic sanitation and cleanliness” at Mission Hospital and other HCA facilities. The letter was provided to Asheville Watchdog this week by Attorney General Joshua H. Stein’s office.

Lowe responded to Walters in a letter dated March 30, writing that “MHS remains invested in having an ongoing dialogue with the North Carolina Department of Justice regarding any concerns it has related to MHS.”

Also this week, Stein, acting on behalf of the State of North Carolina, filed a legal brief in Buncombe County Superior Court urging the court to reject Mission Health’s request to dismiss a class-action lawsuit brought against it by local residents. Dismissal of the lawsuit would prevent an outside investigation into HCA-Mission’s business practices.

The lawsuit alleges anti-competitive behavior by Mission Health that results in higher prices for all healthcare consumers in western North Carolina, where HCA and Mission have an effective monopoly.

The plaintiffs in the class-action suit include Katherine Button, Faith Cook, and Will Overfelt of Asheville, Richard Nash of Candler, William Davis of Clyde, and Jonathan Powell of Morganton. The complaint was prepared by the law firms Wallace & Graham of Salisbury, N.C., and Fairmark Partners of Washington, D.C.

The “friend of the court” brief filed by Stein on Wednesday follows a similar amicus brief filed in support of the plaintiffs by Dale Folwell, North Carolina’s state treasurer, in December 2021. Stein, a Democrat who allowed the sale of nonprofit Mission Health to HCA Healthcare in 2019, and Folwell, a Republican, are widely regarded as potential rivals for future elected office.

“For many services, Mission Health charges insurers prices far higher than the state-wide average price for the same service,” Walters’ letter said. “Unsurprisingly, these costs are passed onto consumers.”

Walters continued, “Complaints note that, at the same time Mission Health charges high prices, Mission Health is enjoying significant profits while the quality of care at Mission Health facilities declines.”

Walters’ letter indicated it was in response to a letter Lowe wrote to the attorney general’s office in July 2021, in which Lowe argued that Mission Health’s chronic understaffing was the result of a “challenging labor market” and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“However,” Walters wrote, “health care systems across the state face these same issues without resulting in the same high number of complaints to this office.”

Lowe’s March 30 letter to the assistant attorney general promised “a more fulsome response on certain topics will follow,” but noted that “the amount a patient pays for the care she receives is impacted by a variety of factors” including insurance coverage, out of pocket costs, “and other factors not set by the prices negotiated between MHS and the insurer.”

Lowe noted that “MHS is compliant with all federal regulations regarding price transparency,” and that commercial insurance contracts contain terms negotiated at length between “highly sophisticated parties.”

As for chronic under-staffing, cleanliness, and long wait times at Mission hospitals, Lowe wrote that Mission Health “is taking a number of concerted steps to address staffing challenges.”

“Further, MHS has received high marks on recent surveys and inspections related to patient safety and quality,” Lowe wrote. — Peter H. Lewis

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Cawthorn’s 52-Point Plan For 2022 GOP House Majority

Rep. Madison Cawthorn of western NC // YouTube screenshot

Once again bucking the Republican leadership, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-western North Carolina) has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to outline his legislative “freedom agenda” if he is re-elected in November and if Republicans regain control of Congress.

Cawthorn’s resolution — which so far has failed to attract any co-sponsors, and reportedly earned a rebuke from House GOP leaders — enumerates the 26-year-old congressman’s more than 50 priorities including ending Social Security entitlements, abolishing the federal income tax, abolishing the Department of Education, allowing concealed carry of weapons in every state, outlawing abortion, completing the southern border wall, censuring Anthony Fauci, resuming work on the Keystone pipeline, ending Obamacare, enacting a Parental Bill of Rights, promoting “patriotic civil engagement,” and downsizing the Environmental Protection Agency along with the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, Labor, and Transportation.

Cawthorn’s House Resolution 937, titled “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to preserve liberty by operating within the enumerated powers in the Constitution of the United States and its founding principles,” follows his equally successful House Resolution 732, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that . . . nothing in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence is meant to be construed as racist or harmful.”

Below are Cawthorn’s 52 “duties of the Federal Government,” slightly edited for brevity. — Peter Lewis

  1. Reduce government spending by one-third by 2031.
  2. Enact a balanced budget amendment.
  3. Turnaround the mismanagement of Social Security … by incentivizing people to work and get off entitlement programs.
  4. Abolish the income tax.
  5. Expand Opportunity Zones.
  6. Demand instant COVID compensation from Communist China.
  7. Incentivizing domestic manufacturing and agriculture production.
  8. Abolish the Department of Education.
  9. Establish English as the official language of the United States.
  10. Downsize the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, Labor, and Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
  11. Cut all outrageous Federal waste and spending and reallocate funds to nonprofits fighting the opioid epidemic, promoting veterans’ entrepreneurship, and promoting patriotic civil engagement.
  12. Recognize the past abuse that Directors of three letter agencies have committed.
  13. Impose term limits on Members of Congress (six terms for House, two terms for Senate).
  14. Impose term limits on Federal career employees.
  15. Ensure … that there is only one subject matter per one bill.
  16. Protect employer-sponsored insurance from single-payer, government-run health care schemes.
  17. Protect patients with preexisting conditions.
  18. Require price transparency.
  19. Provide generous subsidies, offset by cuts to government waste, for individuals to shop for their own health insurance and choose their own doctors.
  20. Preserve health care freedom and choice and expand health savings accounts.
  21. End monopolies in health care and among hospitals by unleashing individual choice and free market competition.
  22. Guarantee health care choice for America’s veterans.
  23. Expand the use and availability of telemedicine.
  24. Federal funding [for education] should follow the student to whichever education institution the student attends [including private religious schools].
  25. Prevent taxpayer dollars from funding anti-American critical race theory.
  26. Document decades of failed progressive governance in our Nation’s urban centers.
  27. Prevent Federal funding for cities that have defunded their police and law enforcement.
  28. Recognize that life begins at conception.
  29. Enact a parental bill of rights.
  30. Make “political affiliation” protected from workplace discrimination.
  31. Protect Americans from violence by recognizing that every American who can legally own a firearm has the ability to carry and conceal firearms in every State without a permit.
  32. Abolish the National Firearms Act of 1934.
  33. Expedite permits for modular nuclear reactors.
  34. Incorporate underused hydropower into our energy grid.
  35. Invest in development of breakthrough technologies using an “all of the above energy” strategy.
  36. Immediately resume work on the Keystone pipeline.
  37. Immediately withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
  38. Demand that China dismantle concentration camps, grant free speech rights to religious and political minorities, and offer a formal apology for the Tiananmen Square massacre.
  39. Impose tariffs on Chinese goods.
  40. Reform the National Environmental Policy Act.
  41. Protect the United States’ access to critical minerals.
  42. Complete President Trump’s border wall.
  43. Prohibit federal funding to sanctuary cities.
  44. Fight human trafficking.
  45. Formally recognize Taiwan independence.
  46. Use money generated from downsizing government to repair bridges, update highway system, and deliver rural broadband access.
  47. Break up big tech monopolies.
  48. Deregulate cryptocurrencies and incentivize blockchain innovation.
  49. Rebuild America’s military.
  50. Immediately return war making powers to Congress.
  51. Invest in cyber, artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, and the Space Force.
  52. Prioritize getting our veterans back to work through fellowship programs.
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Ex-Trump Lawyer Powell Is Selling Her Asheville Home

Sidney Powell’s house in Biltmore Forest

Sidney Powell, an attorney and former federal prosecutor best known for her promotion of conspiracy theories and attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, is selling her home in Biltmore Forest.

Real estate listings show that Powell’s 3,400-square-foot ranch house at 9 Forest Road, which her company Fawkes Partners purchased in 2007 for $750,000, is currently under contract. The asking price is $1.55 million.

Powell joined the legal team of then-President Donald Trump in 2020 by falsely alleging that the election was stolen from Trump by a vast global conspiracy involving China, Venezuela, and secret algorithms inside machines made by Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems. She vowed to “release the Kraken” to overturn the results.

“President Trump won by a landslide,” she falsely claimed. “We are going to prove it, and we are going to reclaim the United States of America for the people who vote for freedom.”

She was later permanently banned from Twitter for promoting the bizarre claims of QAnon, a political group that believes a cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles operating a global child sex-trafficking ring conspired against Trump during his term in office.

After the election Powell raised more than $14 million by promising that her nonprofit organization, Defend the Republic, would restore Trump to the presidency, according to The Washington Post. In August 2021 she paid $1.2 million in cash to buy a house in Alexandria, Va., Politico reported.

Powell did not immediately respond to a question from Asheville Watchdog about her plans to keep an Asheville residence. — Peter Lewis

Sidney Powell // Photo by sidneypowell.com
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Sports News: Tourists Change Leagues, Sort Of

Score it an error: Major League Baseball this week restored the historic names for each of the minor leagues, after meddling with the names last season. After playing last season in the High-A East League, the hometown Asheville Tourists will open the 2022 season in the South Atlantic League.

Final Standings, 2021

Also last season, the Tourists changed their parent club affiliation to the Houston Astros, a decision that MLB failed to rectify this season.

The Tourists home opener is April 12 versus the Greenville Drive. — Peter Lewis

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Mission Named One of Healthgrades’s “America’s 50 Best Hospitals”

Mission Hospital in Asheville is one of the top 50 “Best Hospitals” in the United States for clinical excellence, as measured by the consumer ratings group Healthgrades, Mission Hospital announced today.

Healthgrades analyzed the clinical performance of nearly 4,500 hospitals nationwide across more than 31 of the most common procedures and conditions, and Mission Hospital was the only hospital in North Carolina to get the “50 Best” award, Mission said.

It is the seventh straight year Healthgrades has awarded Mission the “America’s 50 Best Hospitals Award.”

“Healthgrades does not take into consideration perception or popularity in analyzing and rating hospitals,” the Mission news release said. Healthgrades ratings are based on the Medicare Provider Analysis and Review data for 2018 through 2020 and represent three-year estimates for Medicare patients only. Patient reviews and pricing are not included in the evaluations. 

Healthgrades is published by Red Ventures, a media and marketing company based in Indian Land, South Carolina, that also publishes Lonely Planet travel guides, Chowhound, and TV Guide, and owns GameSpot, Giant Bomb, and The Points Guy.

“We are so proud of the team at Mission Hospital and grateful to Healthgrades for recognizing their hard work and exceptional care,” said Chad Patrick, CEO of Mission Hospital. — Peter Lewis

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He’s Out! Asheville native Joe West Retires From MLB

Joe West, the all-time leader in Major League Baseball games umpired, announced his retirement this week after calling a record 5,460 regular-season games. Born in Asheville 69 years ago, and known as “Country Joe,” West called his last game Oct. 6, 2021, behind home plate in the National League wild-card game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. West broke the record held by National League umpire Bill Klem, who may or may not have gotten some calls right from 1905 to 1941.

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Dogwood Makes It Official: Susan Mims is New CEO

Dogwood Health Trust named Dr. Susan Mims chief executive officer of the $2 billion Asheville-based foundation, removing the “interim” title she has held since December 2020.

Created with the net proceeds from the 2019 sale of nonprofit Mission Health, Dogwood had been without a titular CEO since the abrupt and as yet unexplained departure of Antony Chiang in September 2020.

In announcing the decision, Dogwood said the search evaluated “more than 400 potential prospects,” eventually narrowing the field to 16 candidates, and then to four finalists, before concluding that that the best leader was already in the job.

“Over the past year, Dr. Mims has been an excellent leader for Dogwood and has demonstrated her commitment to dramatically improve the health and well being of all people and communities of Western North Carolina,” Casey Cooper, co-chair of Dogwood’s CEO search committee, said in a statement.

Before joining Dogwood, Dr. Mims, a physician, was chairperson of the Department of Community and Public Health at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC, the Asheville-based Mountain Area Health Education Center. Before that she was a vice president at Mission Health, and former CEO of Mission Children’s Hospital. — Peter Lewis

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Dogwood Executive Departs; CEO Search Continues

William Buster // Dogwood Health Trust

William Buster, senior vice president at the Dogwood Health Trust in Asheville, has been named chief executive officer of the $1.3 billion New Hanover Community Endowment Inc. in Wilmington, NC.

Just as the Dogwood Health Trust arose from the $1.5 billion sale of Asheville’s nonprofit Mission Health System to HCA Healthcare, the New Hanover Community Endowment was formed from the sale of the previously county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health. Dogwood Health and the New Hanover Community Endowment each instantly became two of the largest healthcare endowments, per capita, in the United States.

Buster joined the Dogwood Trust’s Impact Team, responsible for grant-making and program-related investment activity, in November 2020. His departure after 14 months comes as Dogwood continues its search for a permanent CEO. Susan Mims, a physician and former member of the senior leadership team at Mission Hospital, has held the title of Interim CEO since the abrupt and as-yet unexplained departure of Antony Chiang as CEO after less than a year at Dogwood.

Dogwood announced its search for a new permanent CEO in October, with plans to announce the new leader “in early 2022.” Buster will assume his new job at the New Hanover Endowment in March. — Peter Lewis

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