Officials say agreement is first step along the way to full affiliation
Last week, officials at Angel Medical Center in Franklin announced that an agreement has been reached for the healthcare provider to be managed by Asheville-based Mission Health System. The agreement is said to be the first step on the path to a full affiliation agreement that has been in the works for over a year.
“After a phenomenal amount of work between our two organizations and numerous meetings with independent consultants and legal counsel, the Angel board reached the unanimous decision that entering into an agreement with Mission Health System is the best choice for our hospital and for our community,” said Randolph Bulgin, chairman of Angel’s board of trustees. “We are very excited about the future.”
At a recent press conference, Angel CEO Tim Hubbs said that a full affiliation agreement is on track to be finalized later in the summer. According to Bonnie Peggs, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Angel, that schedule remains in place.
“We are still providing information to the people who are working out the final agreement,” said Peggs on Tuesday. “The management agreement is just a step, and it will help us as we continue the process of looking at the legal and practical aspects of affiliation.”
Some controversy over the merger talks surfaced after a state bill was introduced by Senator Jim Davis (R-Franklin) that if passed would block the affiliation agreement and any other such agreements that Mission is currently investigating, but Peggs says that the management agreement had been planned long before the bill was introduced.
“We were already talking about this before we got any indication of what was being discussed in the legislature,” Peggs said. “As we were trying to fulfill all of the necessary due diligence [for affiliation], this just seemed to be the next logical step. It just happened to be advantageous with this as well, though it really wasn't because of it,” said Peggs, acknowledging that the management agreement clearly demonstrates the intent of the two healthcare providers to integrate.
Davis’s bill was in response to a recently completed analysis of a special agreement Mission has with the state which allows it to operate as the single major hospital in Asheville. According to Davis, the analysis shows that Mission has gained unfair advantage in the region because of the agreement (called a Certificate of Public Advantage or COPA).
On the contrary, officials at Mission, which commissioned the analysis, say the report shows just the opposite – that Mission has continued to meet and exceed all obligations of the COPA. Both Mission and Angel have called the bill “misguided” and “ill-informed.”
Hubbs said that the bill would seriously impact the current affiliation process and could “postpone any ability by Angel and Mission to move forward” on the agreement, which he says will only benefit healthcare in Macon County.
“The residents of Macon County can remain confident that our local hospital will thrive during the coming years,” said Hubbs. “Mission has long been our partner in caring for the sick and injured of Macon County. This agreement just formalizes that partnership and will be the foundation of our future relationship. The focus of this agreement is to maintain, enhance and increase access to health services here locally, while maintaining local input.”
As part of Mission Health System, Angel stands to benefit in numerous ways, including competitive bidding and pricing for medical supplies and services, better access to capital for future development, increased access to information technology upgrades, the ability to recruit physicians and other healthcare providers and increased access to clinical and administrative expertise
Mission Health System is the sixth largest health system in the state. As part of the management agreement, a representative of Mission will be appointed to Angel's board of trustees, otherwise made up of volunteers from the community. Aside from that, said Peggs, no other tangible changes are immediately expected to come of the agreement.
“Angel Medical Center is a vital community asset for the people of Macon County, and Mission is proud to continue our long-time partnership with Angel in this new agreement,” president and CEO of Mission Health System, Ronald Paulus, said in the press release. “We’re looking forward to working more closely with Angel’s leaders, physicians and staff to help ensure the continued delivery of quality care close to home by this outstanding community hospital.”
Local politicians speak out in support of merger
On Monday, the Franklin Board of Aldermen added its voice in support of a merger between Angel Medical Center and Mission Health System when the board unanimously passed a resolution saying it would “oppose any efforts, be they legislative or otherwise, that would have the effect of disrupting, delaying, or in any way interfering” with the planned affiliation.
Angel, a full service, not-for-profit critical access hospital, has served the residents of Macon County and the surrounding region since 1923, and the resolution recognizes the “vital role” the hospital plays in the healthcare and economy of the town.
The resolution refers indirectly to the Davis bill and notes that it would present “legal impediments” to the business arrangement between Mission and Angel, an agreement which the professional staff of Angel have concluded to be “central to its continued ability to provide services within the town.”
Town attorney John Henning Jr., noted however that while the hospitals have taken a step forward with the new management agreement, they are still not protected from potential legislative changes. “Angel Medical and Mission Health System have reached an agreement between themselves, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be legislatively interfered with or ended altogether,” he said. The resolution passed unanimously and without discussion.