North Carolina HCA hospital criticized for allegedly having only 1 oncologist on staff

The North Carolina attorney general sent a letter to Asheville, N.C.-based HCA's Mission Health accusing it of having only a single medical oncologist on staff, the Citizen Times reported June 22.

The June 20 letter said that the medical oncology practice "now includes only one physician, where it once had as many as fourteen…it is inconceivable that HCA could provide the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who reside within this expansive geographic area with the quality of care that they need and deserve using a single oncologist."

The letter stated the situation puts into question HCA's compliance with the terms of its 2019 acquisition of Mission Health.

The attorney general first raised concerns about the oncology department in a May 11 letter, which expressed concern about staffing, mentioned receiving reports that the center was instructed to stop scheduling chemotherapy sessions and that the facility was poorly maintained.

HCA's North Carolina Division President Greg Lowe refuted the accusations in a May 22 response. The letter conceded that, despite numerous attempts to increase staff,  Mission had struggled with staffing in the oncology department; however, "there [was] no practice or plan to discontinue chemotherapy services or the adult oncology practice at the Cancer Center."

Spokesperson Nancy Lindell, division director of public and media relations at HCA, shared the following statement with Becker's June 22: 

"Mission Health remains committed to providing quality oncology services and treatment to cancer patients in Western North Carolina, and there are no plans to reduce services at the Cancer Center nor to close the Mission Medical Oncology practice, but quite the contrary. Mission has undertaken $12.4 million in capital improvements in the past four years at the Cancer Center with additional patient experience investments currently underway. Mission also deploys nurse navigators, pathologists, radiologists, and reconstructive physicians to offer comprehensive and specialized care from diagnosis through survivorship. We continue to recruit for and welcome new physicians and care providers to our team."

The attorney general requested information on the oncology practice, including the number of oncologists employed by the hospital since the sale, the number of patients seen by those oncologists and a write-up of a plan to staff the practice. The hospital has until July 3 to respond.

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