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Physicians, residents spar over joint venture

Audience listens as Mission CEO Ronald Paulus makes the case for the endoscopy clinic as part of the Mission-Pardee health care facility. Audience listens as Mission CEO Ronald Paulus makes the case for the endoscopy clinic as part of the Mission-Pardee health care facility.

FLETCHER  — Park Ridge physicians, employees and other supporters on Wednesday lambasted a proposed endoscopy clinic that would be a key part of the health care campus that Mission and Pardee hospitals plan on the county line at Fletcher.

The comments came during a certificate of need hearing by state health care regulators. The state turned down Mission's application to build the clinic last year. Mission at first appealed and then decided to resubmit the application with new information. The hearing, at the Mountain Horticulture Research Station, drew a standing room only crowd of around 150 people, about three-quarters of whom declared in a show of hands opposition to the clinic.

One after another, physicians affiliated with Park Ridge told two state representatives that there is no need for another endoscopy clinic despite Mission's claim that demographic growth and the need for preventive care and cancer-detecting procedures make the clinic necessary.

"I am not aware of any compelling data that says there is a need for additional endoscopy services in the county-line area," said Dr. David Manly. "If this were to take place, it would create a duplication of services, which is what the certificate of need process is designed to prevent."

While the hearing was called to gather input on the endoscopy suite, residents took the opportunity to blast Mission for what they said was a predatory incursion into Henderson County with the goal of taking over.

"This move on the part of Mission is really about controlling the area and not about providing a needed service," said Darlene White. "Mission has become a mega-hospital and I don't think this is good for our area."

Supporters of the clinic said its convenience and location would draw many patients from the booming South Buncombe-North Henderson area. Doctors said patients increasingly favor office visits over hospitals for colonoscopies and other cancer-detecting tests.

Dr. Bob Webb, a family practitioner from Mills River, spoke in favor of the clinic.

"In my years of private practice experience, patients will do what's convenience for them and what's accessible," he said. The county-line campus "will be local, it'll be accessible, it'll be convenient."

Dr. Sheldon Marne, a podiatrist, acknowledging that he likes throwing "grenades," said: "Park Ridge Hospital and all you good people are here to complain about something that Park Ridge Hospital has done, and that is Park Ridge built a facility a half mile up from Pardee Hospital and nobody complained about it, and it's there."

Pardee CEO Jay Kirby spoke in favor of the joint health care campus more broadly.

"As the CEO, we have to survey and assess the ever-changing landscape of health care," he said. "When we make those decisions we try not to make those decisions in a vacuum. We do them with constituents, our consumers, our medical staff, our board members and our community leaders." All said the joint venture was a good idea, he added.

Patients in Henderson County generally and in Fletcher as well choose Pardee or Mission, he said. Although a large majority of those in the room said they did not use either hospital, Kirny said, "Nearly 75 percent of the folks who live in Henderson County seek either Pardee or Mission for their in-patient care. So I believe what we see here, although most of the hands in the room opposed the project, it may appear to be a vocal minority."

The medical staff, board of trustees and county commissioners had all endorsed the joint venture.

"The only gentleman who voted against the project was soundly defeated in the last election, as was the Friends of Park Ridge voter information guide. Everyone that was listed on the voter information guide as supporting Park Ridge and opposing this project was soundly defeated," he said, referring to a PAC that Park Ridge supporters formed to push for the Fletcher hospital.

"So don't just the judge perception on who's in the room, don't just judge your perception on what you hear today," he said to the state officials. "Understand the facts and the facts are that Pardee and Mission clearly are the providers of choice in Henderson County."

Graham Fields, assistant to the Park Ridge president for external affairs, said Mission had submitted "essentially the same application" that the state had emphatically rejected last year.

"The State thoroughly evaluated Mission's proposal and concluded that there is simply no need for this type of facility and that Mission's usage data, population projections and overall justification for the project were 'unreliable, 'inconsistent' and 'overstated.'"

"Since demand for endoscopy services has decreased dramatically over the last few years in Henderson County, we can only assume that this project is a veiled attempt to gain a foothold for the larger, more controversial county-line project," Fields said.