LINVILLE — Cannon Memorial Hospital’s construction of its new inpatient behavioral health unit is continuing on schedule in light of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s response to COVID-19.
The project will add 27 behavioral health beds to the 10 existing beds in the facility’s Critical Access Hospital, greatly expanding the hospital’s ability to meet the needs of behavioral health patients due to these beds remaining at capacity on a consistent basis. The hospital receives approximately 5,000 behavioral health referrals a year while admitting about 500 patients.
According to ARHS Public Information Officer Rob Hudspeth, the health care system is not planning on utilizing Cannon Memorial Hospital or its expansion of beds to respond to COVID-19.
“Caring for those kinds of patients is highly specialized,” Hudspeth said. “We have a plan in place with Watauga Medical Center where patients in surrounding counties would be taken to Watauga, because we have a large [Intensive Care Unit] and two new isolation units with negative pressure rooms [there].”
Hudspeth said that having patients centered in one location allows the hospital to control resources more effectively.
“Throughout the day we are counting our utilization of Personal Protective Equipment. Having patients in one location allows us to manage our supplies better as well. It’s specialized [care] that requires negative pressure rooms and isolation. It just allows us to take care of those patients in a way that we have fully prepared for.”
Meanwhile, the hospital has begun its renovation of the first floor, while second floor renovations have yet to start.
The hospital’s recently constructed acute care unit, which was funded by ARHS, hosts eight medical beds, but the beds will not be in use until restrictions surrounding COVID-19 are lifted. Additionally, second floor renovations to the behavioral health unit will not begin until the eight medical beds on the second floor are transitioned to the new unit. The hospital initially planned to open the acute care unit in April.
“Once the new eight-bed unit is open, I think it’s something the county is really going to be proud of,” Hudspeth said. “I’ve been in those rooms, and they’re bigger. They’re nicer. It really is a nice, new facility.”
ARHS received $6.5 million in grant funding for the project from the Department of Health and Human Services. The grant funding was made available after the Dorothea Dix Hospital site in Raleigh sold for $52 million in 2015. The revenue was put into a fund used to expand behavioral health services across the state.
Additionally, the project received $2.4 million in funding from the Morrison Charitable Trust and $2.1 million from The Blair Foundation.
“The [behavioral health] unit is full all of the time. When a patient is discharged, we typically have that bed recommitted in four to five hours,” Hudspeth said. “This behavioral health unit is not just for Avery or Watauga. There are people from all over the state, particularly in Northwest North Carolina, who come to this facility. It is a well-known fact that there is a shortage of behavioral health beds in the state and in the country.”
The facility is the only behavioral health unit in a 40-mile radius, and the expansion will allow the facility to serve 1,500 patients a year, a 200-percent increase over the 500 it is typically able to admit annually at the current facility.
Cannon Memorial Hospital’s medical unit typically cares for four to five patients a day, whereas its behavioral health unit consistently remain at capacity.
Construction broke ground on June 4, 2019, and is expected to be completed in June of 2021 or potentially later, depending on the construction process. The addition is expected to create 58 jobs in the county, ranging from lower level technicians to physicians.