ASHEVILLE – As it waits for a decision on whether it will be able to provide 67 new acute care beds to Buncombe’s hospital footprint, Mission Health has a series of other Western North Carolina expansion projects in the works, spurred by population growth, aging patients, a need for more employees and promises it has to keep after its $1.5 billion 2019 sale to for-profit HCA Healthcare.
Mission Health has several long-term and short-term projects coming to fruition in the coming year, the most recent announced in May and June.
Most of them are scheduled to wrap in 2023.
These greenlighted projects are in progress as Mission tries to snag another big endeavor — a 67-bed expansion at its Asheville campus, which requires approval of its certificate of need, submitted to the North Carolina Division of Health Service Regulation in June.
But it will compete with two other big hospital systems, Florida-based AdventHealth and Winston-Salem-based Novant Health, which also applied to build the new beds and entirely new facilities.
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It could take between three and six months to know whether Mission will have another expansion project before 2022 is out or if the certificate of need will go to one of its nonprofit competitors.
Until then, here are five initiatives Mission has planned during the next two years:
2 new emergency rooms
Mission scored certificates of need in May for two new emergency rooms, one planned for the corner of Hendersonville Road and Airport Road in South Asheville and the other in West Asheville, toward Candler, according to a news release.
“We are excited to be able to expand the quality care we provide at Mission Hospital’s ER in Asheville,” Mission Hospital CEO Chad Patrick said in the release. “Our neighbors to the south and west will soon have closer access to exceptional emergency care,”
According the news release, both ERs will be fully functioning, 24/7 operations that include:
- 12 patient rooms.
- On-site CT, X-ray and ultrasound imaging and clinical laboratory services.
- Board-certified emergency physicians and ACLS-trained emergency nursing staff, comprising nearly 30 employees at each site, according to DHSR documents.
- Compliance with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act regulations as well as appropriate state regulations.
DHSR documents also show Mission’s reasoning behind the planned ERs include:
- The projected population growth and aging in the proposed service area.
- The residential development and economic growth in the proposed service area.
- Problems with geographic accessibility to emergency department services on the Mission Hospital main campus due to traffic congestion.
- Increasing ED volumes within the Mission Hospital service area and within Mission Hospital’s ED.
- Capacity constraints at the Mission Hospital main campus ED due to rising ED volumes, increasing patient acuity, operational and bed capacity limitations.
Mission’s news release said the ERs could be done by “late 2023,” though DHSR documents show they will start providing services beginning July 2024.
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Buncombe County government as a provider of local EMS services has some stake in these new ERs and has been in discussion with the hospital company about next steps.
“We have had meetings with HCA about these new facilities,” spokesperson Lillian Govus said. “These facilities will be a potential destination for EMS transports. Low acuity patients would be able to be transported to a free standing ER instead of the main ER.”
Govus added the ERs also would help reduce transport times for Buncombe’s south and west end units.
The county is developing protocols and policies around when patients may be transported to one of these facilities.
“(Mission’s) in-house transport service will be providing primary response for patients who may need to be transferred to the main hospital,” Govus said. “We will be the back-up to them if needed. We are continuing to work with them as they plan these facilities going forward.”
Funding a nursing training center and nursing educators
Mission is putting its shoulder behind a move to train and ultimately hire more nurses in Buncombe by bankrolling new education positions and a new nursing training center in Asheville.
Starting with the coming fall semester, Mission Health will pay for full-time nursing faculty members at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Blue Ridge Community College and Western Carolina University.
At the same time, Mission affiliate Galen College of Nursing will open its first online classes for local nursing students.
Then it will finish a16,900-square-foot physical location at 30 Town Square Blvd., suite 220, in Biltmore Park.
Galen’s Asheville campus will initially offer three options, including:
- Three-year bachelor’s of science in nursing.
- Two-year associate degree in nursing.
- Licensed practical nurse to associate degree in nursing “bridge” option.
According to Mission spokesperson Nancy Lindell, the physical location will open Jan. 3, 2023.
Moves to educate new nurses come during what hospitals have called a national nursing shortage.
“As we continue to look at creative ways to combat the healthcare worker shortage across the U.S., we are proud not only of our strong partnership with our area colleges, but to help bring an additional education option to our community,” Mission Health Chief Nursing Executive Fran Paschall said in a news release on the planned Galen training center.
She also spoke to the higher education roles Mission is funding.
“As we face the many challenges in healthcare staffing, we are looking for creative solutions to strengthen the partnership with our local schools. Funding a role at each of these schools is one of the steps we are taking to help relieve the nursing shortage and help qualified applicants to attend our local schools.”
Administrators at A-B Tech, Blue Ridge and WCU said their relationship with Mission was a boon to nursing programs at each school.
“It’s going to take all of us working together to overcome the area’s critical nursing shortage,” WCU Dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences Lori Anderson said.
Asheville behavioral heath hospital
Mission Health in Asheville broke ground Nov. 22 on a mental health facility off Sweeten Creek Road.
The $62 million, 84,000-square-foot center on 26 acres will have 120 beds and “offer advanced therapies, technologies and evidence-based best practices to improve the health and well-being of our community,” according to a news release.
It’s slated to open early 2023 and will be called “Sweeten Creek Mental Health and Wellness Center.”
The center is part of a promise stemming from Mission’s 2019 sale to HCA in which the Nashville-based hospital company — the largest in the U.S. — dedicated itself to building a behavioral health hospital in Asheville within five years of obtaining necessary permits.
Angel Medical Center replacement, McDowell expansion
HCA Healthcare is building a new $68 million replacement hospital for Angel Medical Center in Franklin, a project that broke ground April 30, 2021, and which could open late 2022, according to Lindell.
Replacing Transylvania’s current hospital, the new Angel project is an 82,500-square-foot building that will include:
- Three operating rooms.
- One endoscopy suit and a 17-bed emergency department
- A 30-bed inpatient unit capacity with five acuity-adaptable beds.
- 20 medical surgical beds and five observation beds.
“Over the last 15 years, Angel has faced significant challenges due to our size in a healthcare landscape that requires size to survive,” Angel board Chair Johnny Mira-Knipple said during the groundbreaking.
“Financially we were in a bad position before Mission Health offered to support our debt before acquiring us and investing significantly in our hospital. With HCA, even more resources are coming to our community.”
The Angel replacement is also one of several promises HCA made when it bought Mission in 2019, dedicating to wrap the project within five years of obtaining permits.
Mission Hospital McDowell expansion
Mission Health announced ln Aug. 13, 2021, that it would spend $20 million to expand Mission Hospital McDowell with a two-story tower constructed on the front side of the hospital.
The project, according to a news release, will initially expand capacity by 35% by adding 11 beds to Mission Hospital McDowell. It could mean the addition of another floor in the future, if the need is there.
“Mission Hospital McDowell was designed to serve this community’s unique and growing healthcare needs and this expansion will allow us to respond to the rising need for Inpatient Services,” Mission Hospital McDowell CEO Carol Wolfenbarger said in a news release.
“This expansion represents a large investment by HCA Healthcare in McDowell County and is a testament to Mission Health’s commitment to Western North Carolina.”
Andrew Jones is Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or [email protected]. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.