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HCA Healthcare requests case dismissal with prejudice

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(The Center Square) – Litigation against HCA Healthcare by the state of North Carolina should be dismissed, says a request filed in Buncombe County Superior Court.

HCA attorneys on Tuesday denied allegations from Attorney General Josh Stein, representing the state’s taxpayers, the company failed to live up to its agreement to maintain emergency and cancer services following its $1.5 billion purchase of Asheville’s Mission Hospital in 2019. HCA also filed two counterclaims requesting clarification from the North Carolina Business Court on the 10-year agreement.

The 66-page filing says the state “fails to state a claim against the non-parties upon which the court may grant relief” because HCA hasn’t violated the agreement.

Stein in December asked the court to require HCA to restore oncology and emergency services at Mission Hospital to conditions there in 2019, following a flood of complaints from patients, staff and contractors in recent years.

“The Hospital Service Commitments are clear and unambiguous and HCA satisfies them,” the filing read. “Commitments require that HCA (1) maintain Level II trauma capabilities at Mission Hospital, and (2) maintain the capabilities to provide the emergency services and oncology services that were provided at Mission as of January 2019.”

HCA says it declined inclusion of some specific requirements for measuring performance because “it would be impractical and irresponsible to make such specific promises” for 10 years given “the rapidly changing landscape” of health care services in America.

Nazneen Ahmed, spokeswoman for the Stein-led Department of Justice, wrote in an email to The Center Square the department is “confident the court will see through HCA’s attempt to evade responsibility for western North Carolina patients.”

“We look forward to continuing to vigorously pursue this case on their behalf,” Ahmed wrote.

HCA is asking Judge Julianna Theall Earp to dismiss the case with prejudice, declare the company has not violated its agreement, and rule its legal costs and attorney fees “be taxed to the attorney general.”

“We are confident that Mission has fulfilled its obligations under the Asset Purchase Agreement, and we intend to defend the lawsuit filed by the attorney general aggressively,” HCA spokeswoman Nancy Lindell wrote in an email to The Center Square. “The pleadings that we filed speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the lawsuit continues to be a distraction from the important work that Mission continues to do in western North Carolina.”

HCA’s response to Stein’s lawsuit comes less than a week after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services placed Mission Hospital under “immediate jeopardy” on Feb. 6 for failing to comply with federal regulations on governance, nursing, laboratory and emergency services, patients’ rights, and other issues. Mission Hospital has since submitted a correction plan that is not yet publicly available. Federal approval of the plan is critical to Mission’s ability to continue to receive Medicaid and Medicare funds, the hospital’s biggest source of income.

Dogwood Trust, the nonprofit tasked with overseeing HCA’s compliance with the 2019 agreement, is also looking for a new independent monitor after the current monitor, Nashville-based Gibbins Advisors, recently opted not to renew its contract. HCA is expected to present its annual report to the monitor and Dogwood in April, with reports of any violations to the state in July.

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