WMC concept sketch

A concept sketch released in August 2019 shows the $90 million planned expansion to the Watauga Medical Center. The current WMC is located to the left of the photo with a new cardiovascular unit included, to the right of that (white building with five windows) is the planned $90 million expansion, continuing to the right is the potential continuity clinic and a possible parking deck across the street.

BOONE — On May 19, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System shared an update with the Boone Town Council on plans to expand Watauga Medical Center, including the relocation of Mary Street, installation of a new central energy plant and expansion of the hospital’s cardiology wing.

The total cost of the project, which is planned to happen in three phases, is $90 million, according to Rob Hudspeth, senior vice president for system advancement at ARHS.

“The first phase is the new Heart and Vascular Center, which is already under construction and should be completed in August,” said Hudspeth. “In phase two we will begin construction of the new central energy plant. Phase three calls for construction of a new medical bed tower. Proceeding to phase three will be dependent upon several factors, including the financial impact of COVID-19.”

Changes to the roadways adjacent to Watauga Medical Center include the relocation of Mary Street to the south by 150 feet to align with Longvue Drive, according to the project proposal. A traffic light will be added at the new intersection, along with a left turn lane onto Mary Street, and the traffic light currently on Deerfield Road will be removed.

The existing energy plant, which provides energy to the medical facility, was built in 1964, Hudspeth said, adding that it “has failed four times” in the past year, “including a failure of our HVAC system in July during the hottest week of the year.”

“It is important to consider that a failure of a hospital’s central energy plant poses challenges regarding the types of care we can provide,” he said. “For example, a loss of power could reduce our ability to do surgery, sterilize equipment, provide suction, utilize imaging equipment, create negative pressure environments and ensure proper humidity conditions.”

Hudspeth said that a “modernized central energy plant is a foundational element toward providing safe, high-quality care in the future for the community.”

ARHS will also be rehoming a number of its cardiology services to a new wing located at the southeast side of the building. According to Hudspeth, “this decision was data-driven.”

“The data we reviewed alarmingly suggests that cardiovascular disease continues to rise in our primary and secondary service areas,” said Hudspeth. “CVD includes coronary artery diseases such as angina and myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack. We felt that bringing all of our cardiac resources under one roof and adding some new services would strengthen our ability to impact the disease progression.”

Other CVDs include stroke, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, cardiomyopathy and abnormal heart rhythms.

Jim Deal, speaking at the meeting as the project’s attorney, said that plans for the Henson property, which is adjacent to where Mary Street will be relocated, are not yet set, but the area might be an opportunity to relocate several medical practices to one building on the medical campus.

ARHS purchased the Henson property, totaling 15.968 acres, in 2016 for $9 million for the purpose of expanding its facilities, according to past Watauga Democrat reports.

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