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SEARCH General Meeting Minutes August 11, 2020

Updated: Sep 14

Location: Meeting via Zoom

Attendance: 32 people in attendance

The meeting was called to order at 7:00 PM by Susan Larson, co-leader.

Susan made opening remarks to the audience about the activities of the leadership team which expanded to become the board of directors of SEARCH. She said that the leadership team engaged in a thoughtful process to determine the board size and makeup, seeking a balance of characteristics reflective of our two counties. Five members are from the core group that has been guiding SEARCH since its inception three years ago and five are new members, to make 10 on the inaugural board.

The members of the newly formed board of directors were introduced and asked to speak briefly about their experience and desire to work with SEARCH to preserve and improve access to have effective and affordable health care in Mitchell and Yancey Counties. These were the introductions she made.

Susan introduced Annie Carpenter the new Community Engagement Program Director for the Mission System, including Blue Ridge Regional Hospital.

We viewed the SEARCH video, which was created by our consultants, Minnow Media with the advice of the Leadership team.

Most of the meeting was devoted to overviews of selected current work of SEARCH.

The Outreach Committee had reports on two projects.

  • Risa Larsen reported on a new project that seeks to increase participation in the US census by residents of Mitchell and Yancey County. With the approval of the county governments and financial support from the Dogwood Health Trust SEARCH is reaching out through programs in both counties to educate residents about the importance of an accurate census count to the funding of many public activities.

  • Victoria Hicks gave a report looking at models of community engagement in health care. She began with a quote that sums up the philosophy of the Outreach Committee working on this project. “In any community, the people who are closest to the problem are closest to the solutions.” SEARCH conducted Listening Sessions over the last two years. This project is an outgrowth of those sessions. She expects to talk with a select few people to learn people’s strengths and desires. The group hopes to offer money to local people to get their expertise and to make them invested partners in the organization.

  • Karin Rolett asked that people step up to help identify anyone they think of who’d be good to tap as consultants/partners.

  • Lisa Schultz said that this approach made particular sense to her. She recalled a woman saying at a listening session about even basic privileges, “That’s not for me.” Lisa believes that some people have grown up feeling that basic services and amenities are out of reach – including healthcare.

Another major focus of the meeting was HCA/Mission. SEARCH, along with the Health Equity Coalition, observes and educates the community about the provision of health care during the transition to Hospital Corporation of America. There were reports about the various strategies being used to assess what is happening within BRRH and the Mission System as a whole.

  • The HCA Charity Care Policy is different from that of Mission and difficult to understand. New board member George Walter was introduced because he will be focusing on this issue.

  • Susan Larson discussed efforts being made by SEARCH to communicate to the public who is on the Blue Ridge Regional Hospital board of Trustees. She said this is important because a subset of the board can make decisions about the future of the hospital.

  • Victoria Hicks gave a report on the role of the Independent Monitor in investigating how Mission/HCA was living up to the terms of the sales agreement. She said that by the end of April HCA was required to file a report to the Independent Monitor detailing how it had adhered to the Asset Purchase Agreement. After the Independent Monitor reviews the report, they make recommendations to Dogwood Health Trust, which is the party that has the legal right to challenge the report. For BRRH they will be looking to see that services are continued in three areas (Acute care, surgery, and emergency care) and that the charity care policy agreed to is being followed. Victoria said that the concern is that HCA will chip away at services by reducing staff, reducing hours of operation, transferring most cases to Asheville, or throwing up procedural barriers. She urged anyone who has specific issues to report them both to the Independent Monitor and to the Attorney General. The website for the Independent Monitor is IndependentMonitorMHS.com and for the Attorney General, it is NCDOJ.gov. Personal information does not need to be given, though it’s helpful so that the offices can follow up.


A third project dealt with improving collaborations with other organizations in our counties. Susan Larson introduced our summer intern, Patrick Hance, a rising senior at UNC Chapel Hill. He is organizing lists of health-related nonprofits and using his Spanish language skills to translate the narrative of the video and census materials for SEARCH.

Following these presentations, we discussed how all members of SEARCH can become more involved and support our efforts. Risa Larsen reported on progress in developing our new website and gave a quick look at the homepage. Susan provided an address for submitting financial donations to support SEARCH (PO Box 632, Spruce Pine, NC 28777), and we discussed future work planned for SEARCH.

A brief Q & A session closed out the meeting. One question was about ambulance service. The new provider in Mitchell County does not transport patients unless it is an emergency but sometimes patients need to be brought home from the hospital or taken to a doctor’s office on a stretcher. Mitchell County transportation cannot provide this service but who can? It was a question without an answer at this time.

A second question was about morale at the hospital. Susan answered that when staff are cut, morale is affected for several reasons. Remaining staff are pressed harder and wonder whether they can maintain the high level of care they have been known for. On the HCA side, Susan gave the system credit for keeping staff employed during the bleak early months of COVID.

Susan closed the meeting by thanking all for their attendance and attention to the work of SEARCH. She thanked Conrad Leavitt, a new board member, for his skill and success in hosting our first large-scale Zoom meeting.

Submitted by Jon Ward substituting for Secretary Britt Kaufmann, with additions from Risa Larsen and Susan Larson



SEARCH Board Members


MISTY EVANS hails from the Jack’s Creek area of Yancey County, where she grew up on a tobacco farm. She is currently the operations manager at Mitchell-Yancey Habitat for Humanity in Spruce Pine.


Dr. ALEX GREEN is a native of Spruce Pine and descendant of Mitchell County quartz miners. He is the dental director at Mountain Community Health Partnership in Bakersville and is also in his final year of a Master of Public Health program.


RISA LARSEN, who is co-leader of SEARCH, retired to WNC where her mother’s family has been since the late 1700s. Risa retired after a 33-year career as a systems engineer in the aerospace industry. Her grandfather was a founding member of the Spruce Pine Community Hospital Board.


BRITT KAUFMANN, SEARCH board secretary, moved to Yancey County with her husband Dr. Chad Smoker 18 years ago. She has used her English Education degree with many organizations, including the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival and Parkway Playhouse.


CONRAD LEAVITT owns the Burnsville-based Trillivision. He is the technical expert on the board and previously did the videography for two major events which SEARCH co-sponsored in Asheville. He served as treasurer for Toe River Arts and has assisted other area arts groups as well.


KARIN ROLETT was born in Stockholm, Sweden, but has lived in the US since 1970. She has an M.S.W. degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and for many years was a Family Therapist while also doing community organizing, working in women’s health, community organizing, and public health program management.


GEORGE WALTER retired from the Centers for Disease Control and had previously worked with the US Public Health Service. As southern regional Chief of the National Health Service Corps, he administered programs to increase access to health care for rural and underserved communities.


JON WARD, Treasurer of SEARCH, retired as a professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He continues to teach at ETSU.


DENISE COLLIER is a member of the Burnsville Town Council and they had a special called meeting. She owns Main Street Shoes in Burnsville and previously worked as a dental hygienist in the Toe River Children’s Dental Team in Bakersville.


Co-leader SUSAN LARSON moved to Mitchell County in 1973 with her husband David who was recruited by the Spruce Pine Community Hospital to be the first internist and geriatrician in the area. She was the first Executive Director of Toe River Arts Council and went on to a career in higher education fundraising.

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