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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Pardee steps up as the ‘safety net’ in a crisis

When it comes to news about medicine, it goes without saying that Covid-19 has consumed all the oxygen in the room — forgive the expression — for going on two and a half years.

So it was interesting and enlightening — even uplifting — to hear Chief Executive Officer Jay Kirby deliver what amounted to a “state of Pardee Hospital” address at a meeting of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners on June 6.
Kirby’s official reason for a spot on the board’s agenda was to seek commissioners’ OK of the hospital’s plan to borrow $14 million. The money is needed, Kirby said, both to replenish its operating reserves and to set aside a capital fund for medical facilities and renovations needed to meet rising demand in our fast-growing region.
We say region because Pardee’s expanding footprint beyond the county lines clearly shows that the UNC Health Care unit is a growing player. The recent news, too, that Pardee is partnering with Blue Ridge Health to become a Federally Qualified Health Center recipient should open up opportunities to expand access and receive federal payment for services that may otherwise have gone uncompensated.
Covid giveth and Covid taketh away. Thanks to fairly stable labor costs and federal stimulus money designed to help hospitals stay afloat, Pardee actually had a remarkably good year financially ending at the end of last June. Then two Covid waves from last July on spiked expenses. The leading culprit on the expense side was a tripling of the cost of labor for nursing along with the rising cost of support personnel. On the revenue side — in a no-good-deed-goes-unpunished moment — the hospital suffered financially when new rounds of grants took into account its solid performance in fiscal 2020-21 and concluded Pardee must be doing fine. Result: Its impressive margin of plus $16 million when the books closed a year ago was followed by a loss of $9 million this fiscal year. Commissioners were wise to authorize the $14 million loan because, as Kirby noted, the demand for quality care is only going to increase. A parallel story is that the supply of quality care seems to be diminishing next door at Mission Hospital in Asheville and Brevard, causing patients to give up on the corporate health-care giant and switch to Pardee and Advent Health.
Pardee’s budget has grown from $100 million to $350 million over the past 10 years and services that now range well beyond the Justice Street campus include four urgent cares, many physician practices and thousands of visits for X-rays, labs and other ancillary services.
Its payroll of $150 million and workforce of 1,500 place would place Pardee at the top if compared to any of the manufacturing plants that the county lures with tax breaks and celebrates with ribbon cuttings.
Impressive as the numbers are, the most important takeaway involved our hospital’s commitment to medicine and commitment to the community. Pardee’s leadership team and its board of directors, Kirby told commissioners, never wavered in putting patients above profit.
“At our hospital board meetings, in our administrative team meetings, there was never a question as to whether or not we were going to stand down and only accept so many in our hospital during the second wave based on our status,” he said. “It was, ‘Go get ‘em. We are the safety net for this community. Go get the people, no matter what it costs,’ and that’s what we did.”
Not every community has a “go get ’em” culture at a county-owned hospital managed by one of the most respected public health care providers in the South. We’re fortunate in Hendersonville that we do.