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Posts published in “Healthcare”

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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As Hospitals Elsewhere Mandate Vaccines for Staff, Mission and Others Resist

Despite "critical" need, administrators fear workers will quit

A choice to be made between an individual and their doctor

The largest healthcare providers in Western North Carolina, including Mission Hospital in Asheville, confirmed this week that they are not requiring doctors, nurses, volunteers, or other hospital staff to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus despite a resurgence of infections and hospitalizations.

Most of the other major hospital systems in the state have made full vaccinations mandatory, citing staff and patient safety as a highly contagious COVID-19 variant spreads nationwide, almost entirely among people who have not been vaccinated or are only partly vaccinated.

Hospital administrators and clinical leaders say they agree that vaccinations represent the most effective way to stop the pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 Americans, including hundreds of people in Asheville and surrounding communities.

Few people are more familiar with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic than hospital workers. Even so, hospital administrators in Western North Carolina — where science and politics are not always compatible — said nurses,


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.


Covid-19: Those We’ve Lost

One year, 301 gone

Glenn and Evelyn Bannerman. Childhood sweethearts, married 72 years, lost to Covid within 17 days.

They taught students in school, delivered the mail, advised Congress, and served the country in wartime and peace.

One led public affairs for NASA and became the voice of launch control for Apollo space missions. Another was a composer and pianist who played in the original Mickey Mouse Orchestra.

A year has passed since Buncombe County recorded its first Covid-19 death on March 28, 2020. Since then, another 300 people have died. In the official government record, they’ll be remembered as statistics of a pandemic that killed swiftly and indiscriminately, but to their families, friends and neighbors, they were so much more.

Asheville Watchdog combed public health reports, obituaries and death certificates listing Covid-19 as a cause of death to examine the virus’s march through Buncombe. The lives lost include the working and the retired, journalists and college professors,


Nonprofit Mission Made Lots of Profits. Especially for Bosses.

Pay for top execs rose faster than for doctors, nurses

For a hospital system organized as a not-for-profit charity, Mission Health made a lot of profits.

The money left over after Asheville-based Mission subtracted its expenses from its revenue — what would be called profit at a for-profit hospital — grew year after year, right up to 2018, when Mission’s directors surprised nearly everyone by announcing plans to sell out to Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare, the nation’s biggest chain of for-profit hospitals.

Mission at the time was as strong financially as it had ever been, which Mission’s executives said made it the perfect time to sell. They cited trends and studies suggesting that the Mission system faced a bleak future of relentless cost-cutting.

The cost-cutting apparently didn’t include the paychecks of Mission executives, which grew for years untouched by the financial scalpel.

Tax records examined by Asheville Watchdog reveal that in the decade leading up to the $1.5 billion sale of Asheville’s community-owned hospital system,


Mission sale: Good for WNC, or just HCA?

Smaller, less-profitable hospital nets twice the price

Years from now, the decision in 2018 by the directors of Mission Health to sell to HCA Healthcare might be seen as a brilliant strategic maneuver, one that guaranteed affordable, high-quality healthcare for future generations of western North Carolinians. This was, and still is, the position of the directors and executives who pushed the deal.

In return for giving up its independence, local control, and century-long legacy as a nonprofit providing quality care for the benefit of local residents, Mission accepted a $1.5 billion offer from HCA, the biggest hospital chain in the country. As a public company, HCA is required by law to prioritize profit-making for its shareholders.

The money from the sale was designated to fund a new nonprofit, the Asheville-based Dogwood Health Trust. Based on the relatively small population of the 18-county mountain region it serves, Dogwood overnight became not just the richest per capita health-related endowment in North Carolina,


A Done Deal: How Mission Health Wooed HCA

More than 2 years later, secrets and silence continue

Philip D. Green, Mission’s strategic advisor

The news stunned Asheville and Western North Carolina, where Mission Health System Inc. was the area’s largest employer, its main healthcare provider, and a long-time source of civic pride. Seemingly out of the blue, Mission’s directors publicly announced on March 21, 2018, that they had voted to sell the 133-year-old nonprofit to HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, for an estimated $1.5 billion.

“To say that [Mission’s] announcement … was a surprise would be an understatement,” the Asheville Citizen Times observed in an editorial. “There has not been the slightest hint anything was afoot until Mission announced that its board had approved the deal unanimously.”

Coming Thursday: A smaller, less-profitable nonprofit hospital system in North Carolina sells for $2 billion, plus $3.1 billion in additional commitments — more than double what Mission negotiated with HCA. 


Families in Fear at Stricken Nursing Home

‘Not How Our Ending was Supposed to Be,’ says wife of Covid Patient

Kathie and Burt Carnahan at their daughter's wedding in 2018.

This story has been updated to reflect the latest Covid-19 cases from the state.

Kathie Carnahan nursed her husband through two major surgeries, watched helplessly as dementia robbed the once vibrant attorney of the ability to speak, and made the gut-wrenching decision to place him in an Asheville nursing home.

But nothing compared to the pair of phone calls the family received two weeks ago from administrators at Aston Park Health Care Center. The first brought the news she had dreaded: Covid-19 had entered the nursing home. And then: her beloved Burt was infected.

“My heart sank, and I thought, ‘Oh god, it’s happening,’ ” she said. “It was the worst moment in my life.”

Kathie Carnahan

Kathie and Burt Carnahan at their daughter’s wedding in 2018.

The coronavirus is surging through Aston Park,


Covid Ravages Asheville Nursing Home

Half the Patients Infected, 4 Deaths in 11 Days

Half of the residents at Aston Park Health Care Center are infected with the coronavirus.

This story is being updated as new information becomes available.

It began with one employee falling ill from the coronavirus.

By Friday morning, just 11 days later, more than 55 elderly and infirmed residents at the Aston Park Health Care Center in southwest Asheville and at least 30 of its staff had tested positive. 

Four residents had died and one was hospitalized.

“We have some that are very, very sick,” said Executive Director Marsha Kaufman. “It’s hitting those patients that have been declining and are really weak and compromised, the worst.”

Coronavirus is sweeping through North Carolina nursing homes, claiming an astonishing toll of more than 400 dead. As of Friday,  outbreaks had occurred in 41 counties, including Buncombe, where cases had been reported at four nursing homes. The others are Carolina Pines at Asheville, 2 staff infected; Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community,


Pandemic Put Pause On Mission’s Troubles

Hospital raised prices 10 percent; local officials still concerned

The biggest health crisis in a lifetime hit Asheville shortly after the one-year anniversary of the biggest upheaval in local healthcare: the $1.5 billion sale of the nonprofit Mission Health System to HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital management chain.

The transition from local nonprofit to profit-hungry behemoth has not gone smoothly, and not just because of the coronavirus. Now, as Mission Health begins to reopen for elective surgeries and procedures put on hold during the first wave of the ongoing pandemic, the unresolved question that roiled the community just three months ago remains: Was HCA’s purchase of Mission Health healthy for Asheville?

Three months now seems a very long time ago, but just before the pandemic arrived — before the lawns on Mission Health were decorated with “Heroes Work Here” signs and before citizens cheered the front-line health professionals risking everything on their behalf — hundreds of area residents and local officials said they did not think so.