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The Henderson County Board of Commissioners bent to the reality of both the free market and the government-controlled market when it acceded to a major change designed to eradicate politics from Pardee Hospital's governance.
The elected commissioners made the wise choice, for the good of the county-owned hospital, its 1,225 employees and its patients — and most of all its long-term future.
The change will position Pardee Hospital to made sound business decisions in a challenging and rapidly shifting marketplace. Pardee, like every other community and regional hospital in America, is marching into a precarious transition period. Facing the loss of $54 million over the next decade because of state and federal health policies, Pardee has to be flexible enough to seize business opportunities, agile enough to react to new laws and big enough to absorb punches and fight on.
The meddlesome and shortsighted behavior of the Board of Commissioners caused a near disaster when two members tried to block Pardee's joint venture with Mission. That was proof enough that politics and hospital business practices make for a combustible marriage. If not for three cooler heads, former Commissioner Bill O'Connor would have had Pardee on the auction block by now — its $71 million payroll and local care for an aging population hanging in the balance. Another near disaster, the commissioners' perfidious treatment of Flat Rock Playhouse as it teetered on the edge of extinction, showed that our Board of Commissioners is frighteningly susceptible to mob rule.
An asset of Pardee's value ought not be vulnerable to the flipping of one or two county commission votes in the next election cycle.
The people who own Pardee and the commissioners they elect should take heart when they see the hospital's positive current year financial performance under the leadership of the Board of Directors, CEO Jay Kirby and UNC administrators. County commission chairman Charlie Messer and Pardee chairman Bill Moyer deserve credit for guiding their boards to the governance change, which shifts the balance of power from the Board of Commissioners to the Pardee trustees and the UNC Health Care System. Although UNC has an even stronger management role, Henderson County remains the owner of Pardee.
The future of institutional providers of health care is going to be about synergy, agility and scale. The winners will not be slow and clumsy giants.
UNC is growing its power statewide by expanding its reach toward the mountains and the coast, and, yes, power in this case means political power and economic power. Whether they're based in Asheville, Durham or Chapel Hill, the big boys are going to drive the train. Better to be on it than under it.