LINVILLE — After three years of planning and development, Cannon Memorial Hospital’s new medical surgical unit will officially open on Thursday, June 25.

The new unit adds eight additional beds to the hospital’s inpatient care facility, thus allowing the hospital’s staff to better care for patients while the next phase of its long-term plan, the extension of its behavioral unit, begins in the opposite sector of the hospital.

The new behavioral health unit is expected to be completed in August or September of 2021, according to Cannon Memorial Hospital President Carmen Lacey, and the expansion will add 27 beds to the existing 10 in its behavioral health unit.

For now, the new eight-bed unit should more than suffice, as the hospital on average cares for four to five patients a day in its medical unit, while its behavioral health unit consistently remains at capacity.

“Primarily, the patients that we’ll be taking care of [in the new unit] have medical needs. We will have some surgical patients, postoperative patients like a gallbladder patient. We have a physician who does plastic surgery, so we may keep those overnight. Dental surgeries usually go home the same day. We have a very robust outpatient surgery program, and the majority of them go home these days. However, there are some that we keep,” Lacey said.

Additionally, the rooms in the surgical medical unit are dual-certified for acute care patients or swing-bed patients, which is a long-term care designation similar to a nursing home designation.

“For example, if someone has a knee replacement over at Watauga [Medical Center] and they need rehab for seven to 10 days postoperatively, instead of going to a long-term care unit or another rehab unit, they can come here to spend that seven to 10 days working with physical therapy here,” Lacey said.

Christy Ollis, Medical Surgical Unit Manager, expects physical rehabilitation to important service for the hospital moving forward.

“That’s going to be a really good service for outpatients who have surgery at Watauga that just need a couple of days [of rehabilitation]. We have this big, beautiful unit. We have physical therapy here. Our orthopedic surgeon is really doing a lot catching up on elective surgeries,” Ollis said.

The hospital also cares for patients who are at “end of life” and can administer comfort care or pain control. Lacey said that the hospital receives a lot of patients who are considered hospice general inpatient, or patients who have elected to have hospice in their lives or the lives of family members.

“We encourage family members to stay with their loved ones while they’re here,” Lacey said.

Each new medical room is spacious and family friendly. Family members can comfortably stay overnight in the same room with a patient by simply folding the back cushion of the couch over to easily turn it into a bed.

The new rooms has come with built-in technological capabilities that enable doctors and nurses to access a patient’s medical records and display them to the patient and his or her family instantaneously.

“If the provider wants to pull up a CT scan to show a patient or family and say, ‘we found a spot right here in the base of your lung,’ we can show them rather than just telling them. We can also do our patient education on [the new technology],” Lacey said.

Telemetry capabilities are featured in each room, allowing hospital staff to supervise patients who are in critical condition or need their heart monitored. A patient’s vital signs can also be taken without nurses needing to drag a machine from room to room.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System received $6.5 million in grant funding for the project from the Department of Health and Human Services, which was made available after the Dorothea Dix Hospital site in Raleigh sold for $52 million in 2015.

“What we’ve seen over the last several years, and this is not unique to Cannon, is that the inpatient needs for small rural hospitals for medical surgical patients are decreasing. When the Dix grant opportunity came around three years ago, what we thought the community needs and what will make us as a facility sustainable while still being able to offer medical surgical care, was to flip the beds to increase our behavioral health capacity while decreasing our medical surgical capacity, while still meeting the needs of the community,” Lacey said.

In order to go through with the project, the hospital was granted an exception from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which does not normally let a critical access hospital operate a behavioral health unit with more than 10 beds—the first one in the country.

“It’s a rather unique thing that we’re doing here,” Lacey said. “We continue to offer the same services that we’ve been offering for the past several years. We’re not decreasing any services.”

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