BOONE — The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is moving forward with a $90 million plan that includes current facility upgrades at Watauga Medical Center and new infrastructure.

ARHS President and CEO Chuck Mantooth discussed plans for the future of ARHS during the Aug. 23 Wake Up Watauga radio event hosted by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mantooth said the planned improvements and additions to WMC were made with the aging population in mind. According to Mantooth, a significant part of the local population is made up of members of the baby boomer generation. He said by the year 2023, one in four people will be above the age of 65 in the U.S.

For this reason, ARHS plans to invest in the areas of care for heart disease and cancer. As a person who has a family history of heart disease, Mantooth said he thought it was important for ARHS to invest heavily in this area of care.

Not only will the $90 million cover upkeep for current facilities, but also a new bed tower adjacent to the emergency department, surgery suites, a new cardiovascular center and a new central energy plant. Mantooth said the current cardiology clinic needs about twice the space that it has, and the new clinic will triple the space. The center would consolidate all of the cardiovascular services such as testing, intervention efforts and rehab amenities.

“Over the next six months as we plan and design exactly what is going to be on the hospital campus, we’re going to plan for phase two,” Mantooth said.

The next phase is not covered by the $90 million and has not been approved yet by the ARHS Board of Trustees, said Rob Hudspeth, the ARHS senior vice president for system advancement. Phase two would include a continuity clinic, new space for orthopedics and sports medicine and the relocation of Appalachian Regional Internal Medicine Specialists.

According to Hudspeth, the continuity clinic would be structured in order to prioritize longterm relationships between staff and patients for continuous management of chronic disease. The continuity clinic would give more focus to primary care services, with a new family medicine primary care residency program — that is set to launch in July 2020.

The residency program would bring in doctors for a three-year program after medical school during which they would treat patients but also work with hospital faculty to make sure they’re learning proper techniques, Mantooth said. Hudspeth added that residency is additional years of training on top of four years of medical school to reinforce a doctor’s specialty and subspecialty education.

“A continuity clinic is a great way for residents to build mentoring relationships with attending physicians, and provides them the opportunity for practice-based learning as they analyze performance outcomes for their own patient panel and implement systematic changes for quality improvement,” Hudspeth said.

The residency program would be run in partnership with the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville, with four to six residents brought in each year.

Mantooth added that there could be a possibility of a new cancer center in the works as well. The current Seby B. Jones Cancer Center — located at 338 Deerfield Road — operates out of 27,000 square feet with multiple additions and evolutions of how it provides care, Mantooth said. He added that ARHS recently signed an agreement to partner with UNC Lineberger Cancer Center to to leverage their expertise in research and care innovation.

Hudspeth said that a new cancer center is only conceptual at this time and is not a part of the $90 million expansion. This project would relocate the existing cancer center to a new, modernized facility, according to Hudspeth.

Part of these projects would occur on the current site of WMC, but others would extend onto the 15.968 acres at the corner of Deerfield Road and U.S. 321 that ARHS purchased in 2016. The tract of land — formerly known as the Henson property — was bought for the purpose of future ARHS facilities expansion. Hudspeth said ARHS would work with the town of Boone, county partners and the Department of Transportation to lay out any structures that could extend onto this property.

Hudspeth also stated that part of the purchase agreement with the family that sold the property were some specifications on how to utilize the space. He added that it is intended to have a greenway extension that would connect to the Middle Fork Greenway Trail.

Mantooth also discussed current projects such as the behavioral health expansion at the Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville and work with Liberty Senior Living to establish plans for a future senior living center at Chestnut Ridge in Blowing Rock. The expansion at Cannon Memorial will add about 27 behavioral health beds to the existing 10 beds, as Mantooth said the “demand is incredible” there for behavioral services.

The work with Liberty Senior Living will be to create housing for a retirement community, Mantooth said. The project would take place on 67.815 acres owned by ARHS that currently houses the Foley Center, the Harriet and Charles Davant Jr. Medical Clinic and the Village Pharmacy — a division of Boone Drugs Inc. Mantooth said there are conceptual ideas being developed about how to create a retirement community to join these services.

Chamber President and CEO David Jackson explained that Wake Up Watauga allows business interests in the community to have a conversation about what they have been doing and goals for the future. He added that health care is one of the area in the community that has likely evolved more positively than anything other local industry.

“As a community I think it’s great to understand what resources are available and what resources are evolving,” Jackson said. “To have the leadership of institutions like our regional health care system, public school system and university routinely come and update us on the day to day and how things affect us today, I hope is beneficial for your businesses to be able to make the decisions that you need to make about expansion, hiring and recruiting people here because you know you have the resources to support those folks.”

More information on the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System can be found at apprhs.org.

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