By Tim Gardner
Renovations at Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital to expand its inpatient behavioral health unit is slightly ahead of schedule. Construction was expected to finish in June 2021, but the project’s contractor is forecasting the project will be complete by May 2021.
Carmen Lacey, President of Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital (CMH), anticipates that the new behavioral health beds will be “operational” by September 1, 2021.
The project began with an official ground-breaking in 2019. In June 2020, CMH opened eight new medical/surgical patient rooms on the 1st floor, which allowed for the conversion of vacated space on the 2nd floor to expand the behavioral health unit.
“We are excited about being able to meet much-needed behavioral health needs with the expanded facility,” said Lacey. “Increasing the number and availability of inpatient psychiatric treatment beds is desperately needed in our state and across the country.”
In 2018, the 10-bed behavioral health unit could only admit roughly 500 patients and had to turn away 4,500, Lacey noted. The expansion will add 27 additional beds to the unit.
Lacey said the new beds “will help reduce travel distances for many patients and decrease wait times for individuals in emergency departments who need inpatient behavioral health care.”
Lacey served in various capacities at old Garrett (later renamed Sloop) Hospital in Crossnore, beginning in the 1970s, before relocating to Cannon Memorial Hospital when it merged with Sloop in 1999 and then became its President in 2012. She said CMH’s daily medical census is less than ten patients, while the existing 10-bed behavioral health unit is always at full capacity.
Lacey said that the facility will be the only behavioral health unit in a 40-mile radius of Linville and its expansion will serve approximately 1,500 patients, a 300-percent increase annually.
“As a critical access hospital, we will continue to perform surgeries, offer inpatient medical care and provide diagnostic and rehabilitative services, as well as a 24-hour; seven days a week emergency department,” Lacey added.
The behavioral health unit expansion should create approximately 58-60 jobs, to include technicians, nurses, therapists, nutrition specialists, social workers, and doctors.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, of which Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital operates under, received $6.4 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the behavioral expansion project.
Prior to this project, regulations did not permit a critical access hospital to be housed in the same facility with a behavioral health facility. However, CMH received an exception to the rule–the first one ever granted– by the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services.
$2.4 million from the Morrison Charitable Trust and $2.1 million from The Blair Foundation were utilized to build the new 8 bed medical/surgical unit.
Inpatient behavioral health services are only a small part of the healthcare services provided at CMH. The facility is home to an emergency department, surgery suites, diagnostic imaging facilities, inpatient medical surgical care, outpatient behavioral health and rehabilitative services.
“I want to be clear that Cannon Hospital will continue to meet the medical needs of the community by operating as a Critical Access Hospital,” Chuck Mantooth, the president and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, said in a press release.
“These additional behavioral health beds afford us the opportunity to grow the medical campus at Cannon Hospital and to develop the rural hospital of the future model, which can be replicated across the country. These grant funds are a win for patients, our community, our healthcare system and the State of North Carolina,” he added.
Lacey concluded these further remarks about the new facility at Cannon Hospital: “Because we’re expanding our behavioral health capacity, we’re better equipped to meet the needs of our community in these realms. There are many patients needing care and they often have long waits in emergency departments for access to inpatient units. The expansion of the inpatient behavioral health unit will allow us to respond quickly to those in need of such medical services.”