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ARHS pursues new partnership for retirement community
Organizations envision facility at Blowing Rock's Chestnut Ridge

BLOWING ROCK – After nine years of searching, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is working on a partnership with Wilmington-based Liberty Senior Living to develop a senior living campus on the 68-acre tract at Chestnut Ridge in Blowing Rock.

The news was confirmed by ARHS spokesperson Vicki Stevens and Senior Vice President Rob Hudspeth.

“We’re so excited,” Hudspeth said. “It’s taken us nine years and two market studies.”

"Details of the partnership are still developing, but there is a contract and we are awaiting just a few regulatory approvals," Liberty Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilson said. "In the meantime, Liberty is consulting on the operation of The Foley Center and developing a milestones-based approach toward building the retirement facility. Eventually, The Foley Center and the retirement facility will operate together seamlessly as a full continuum of care."

The establishment of a retirement community at Chestnut Ridge has been a longtime goal for ARHS.

Chestnut Ridge sits on 68 acres located on U.S. 321 near the Blue Ridge Parkway. It consists of the post-acute treatment facility the Foley Center, the Harriet and Charles Davant Jr. Medical Clinic and the Village Pharmacy, a division of Boone Drugs Inc. Those facilities opened in the second half of 2016, with patients moved from the now-demolished Blowing Rock Hospital in early January 2017.

When developing the Foley Center, ARHS sought an agreement with Well-Spring of Greensboro to develop a retirement facility, but in 2012 the proposal fell apart after Well-Spring declined to move forward.

“When Well-Spring didn’t work out, we decided to go ahead and build a post-acute facility,” Hudspeth said. “But we didn’t just buy eight acres for the post-acute facility, we bought 68 acres with the hope of someday having a thriving senior living campus there,”

ARHS has continually searched for a partner in developing a continuing care retirement community, which Hudspeth said is sorely needed for the region.

“People are leaving the area when their spouses gets sick in order to find a community for them,” Hudspeth said.

The latest effort that resulted in the agreement with Liberty started in 2018, Hudspeth said, with 31 requests to prospective partners.

“We narrowed it down to four, then in February, (the ARHS) Board of Trustees made the decision,” Hudspeth said.

The partnership between ARHS and Liberty is a natural fit, Hudspeth added.

“Our cultures aligned,” Hudspeth said. “They’ve developed retirement communities in a number of seasonal areas and understand that the population fluctuates at certain times of the year.”

Liberty Senior Living, a branch of Liberty Healthcare Management, has developed retirement communities in Wilmington, Pinehurst, Charlotte, Candler and Mount Pleasant, S.C., with facilities under construction in Charlotte and Cary. The company was originally founded in 1875 as McNeill’s Pharmacy in Whiteville and has remained in the McNeill family ever since.

“Liberty Healthcare is an experienced family-owned company that has been helping people manage their health care and residential needs for more than 125 years,” the Liberty website states. “Our principal owners Sandy and Ronnie McNeill are proud to call North Carolina home, and are the fourth generation of McNeills immersed in the healthcare industry.”

"Liberty looks forward to working with ARHS in this partnership to develop a campus that will meet the needs of the community," Wilson said in a statement.

Bee great: Nystrom shines at National Spelling Bee

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Boone resident and Hardin Park sixth-grader Samuel Nystrom, 12, took part in the Scripps National Spelling Bee from May 27-29, spelling both his words on stage correctly at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

With the bee streamed on on May 28-29, Nystrom spelled “soufflé” and “reluctant” correctly.

Despite being perfect on stage, Nystrom did not qualify for the finals, as only the top 50 of the 512 remaining spellers made it after the results of their preliminary tests were factored in.

“Sam did not make the cut for the finalists who will be competing (May 30), so he has finished spelling for this year,” Sam’s mother Jen Nystrom said on May 30. “He is satisfied with that. I think maybe his only twinge of regret is that he didn’t get a more difficult word in round three. He’s excited to head to the museums (May 30) and to be in the audience for the final rounds.”

“We couldn’t be more proud of Sam’s accomplishments,” Watauga County Schools spokesperson Garrett Price said. “Winning your school’s spelling bee is no small feat in its own right, and winning the regional contest is truly a special accomplishment. Going on to compete at the national level is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sam is an incredibly intelligent and hard-working student. He’s put in hours of diligent practice and it absolutely shows in his ability to compete at the highest levels.”

The National Spelling Bee has taken place since 1925, originally organized by the Louisville Courier-Journal, according to the bee’s website, run by the newspaper company The E. W. Scripps Company, based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, on a nonprofit basis.

“We are super-proud of how well Sam represented Hardin Park and Watauga County Schools at the National Bee,” said Hardin Park’s Emily Rothrock, who coordinated Hardin Park’s spelling bee. “Mrs. Mary Smalling (principal of Hardin Park) says it was his warm-up for next year’s national bee.”

A total of 565 spellers took part in the preliminaries, also known as round one, which consisted of a multiple-choice test that took place at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 27.

“The preliminaries test has 26 multiple choice items divided in four sections, with spellers identifying their responses on Scantron test forms,” the National Spelling Bee’s rulebook states. “A speller receives one point for each of the 12 items identified correctly in the round one spelling section and one point for each of the 12 items identified correctly in the round one vocabulary section.”

The preliminary test required competitors to correctly spell words such as “grok,” “dissilient and “sciapodous.” The vocabulary section asked the kids questions such as “Pyrosis is a synonym for?” and “What is a haymaker?” The results of the preliminary tests were not publicly released.

Along with the maximum possible 30 points on the preliminary test, spellers got to go onstage and spell a word in rounds two and three on Tuesday, May 28, and Wednesday, May 29, respectively. The correctly spelled words were worth three points each. Misspelling either word onstage would result in automatic elimination.

Following round three, the 512 remaining spellers, including Nystrom, had their scores from the first three rounds culminated, with a maximum of 36 points possible. Up to a maximum of 50 spellers with the highest results advanced to finals, which took place May 30.

Nystrom qualified for the National Spelling Bee by winning the regional competition in Winston-Salem on March 24, overcoming 27 spellers from 17 different counties in 11 rounds, winning with the word “tilth.” It was Nystrom’s second trip to the regional competition, having previously qualified two years ago.

According to WCS, that experience as a fourth-grader helped push Nystrom to work on his spelling skills.

“With the help of his mother, Jennifer, Nystrom spends time each night studying word lists,” WCS previously stated. “When he encounters a word he doesn’t know, he highlights it for later study.”

NC Senate passes own version of biennium budget
State Senate budget includes state employee pay raises

RALEIGH – N.C. Senate Republican leaders worked the week of May 28 to push through the 2019 biennium budget, packed in House Bill 966, a 338-page document that details the spending of over $48 billion over the next two fiscal years, starting July 1.

The N.C. Senate approved the second reading of the budget on Thursday, May 30, by a 29-18 vote, mostly along party lines with two Democrats voting in favor. Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) voted “aye.”

With a few additional amendments, the budget passed the third and final reading by a 30-16 vote, with three Democrats joining the Republicans in approval.

In a statement lauding the budget, Senate President Phil Berger (R-Dunn) criticized state Democrats for their focus on expanding Medicaid, calling it “socialized health care for able-bodied adults.”

Berger lauded HB966 for, he says, increased access to health care for disabled individuals, lower taxes for families and employers, the largest pay increase for state employees in more than a decade and continued teacher pay raises.

Some advocacy groups have criticized the budget.

“Our legislative leaders have chosen to cut taxes for the few and diminish spending in the face of community needs,” the North Carolina Justice Center said in a May 29 statement. “They have blocked the pathway for all North Carolinians striving for financial security and substantially reduced the quality of life that we all deserve.”

The. N.C. Senate budget would have $23.9 billion and $24.68 billion in revenues and expenses for 2019-20 and 2020-21. The totals are roughly the same in the first fiscal year and lower in the second fiscal year compared to the N.C. House version.

The totals represent an increase in spending from the 2017 biennium budget, which originally appropriated $22.9 billion and $23.6 billion for 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively.

State employees would likely be bigger fans of the N.C. Senate version, which would call for a 2.5 percent pay raise for most state employees in each of 2019-20 and 2020-21. The raises were lauded by the State Employees Association of N.C, who had criticized the N.C. House’s plan for a 1 percent pay raise or $500, whichever was greater.

“Thank you to Senate budget writers for prioritizing state employee pay equity in the Senate’s budget proposal,” Robert Broome, executive director of the SEANC, said in a May 29 statement. “For far too long, state employees have not been made a priority in state budgets. They are often treated as an afterthought of the process. The Senate budget recognizes the sad truth of this inequity, and takes steps to address it.”

The N.C. Senate includes teacher raises from the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 term for all teachers with one or more years of experience. According to HB966, in the 2020-21 fiscal year, teachers with 15-24 years of experience would be bumped to $5,050 a month in salary and teachers with 25 years or more of experience would earn $5,252 a month. Currently, teachers with 15 or more years of experience earn $5,000 a month.

The budget also calls for a one-time lump-sum bonus of $500 to the 15-24-year teaching veterans and $1,000 for the 25-year-plus veterans, given out no later than Oct. 31, 2019.

Funding for a summer enrollment program at UNC system schools, which was included in the N.C. House budget, was not specifically laid out in the N.C. Senate version.

The N.C. Senate Bill does not list $25.4 million in funding for the renovation of Wey Hall, which was included in the N.C. House version. Nick Katers, associate vice chancellor for facilities management, said to the Boone Town Council on April 29 that Wey Hall is one of the last campus buildings that hasn’t undergone a major renovation in its lifetime.

The N.C. Senate bill establishes the Medicaid Transformation Fund, which would receive $210 million in 2019-20 and just over $22.3 million in 2020-21. The funds would come from the Medicaid Transformation Reserve.

The standard deductions for taxpayers were bumped up from the N.C. House version. For married couples filing jointly, the standard deduction would go up from $20,000 to $21,000 ($20,750 in the N.C. House version) and for single people, from $10,000 to $10,500 ($10,375 in the N.C. House version).

The Senate version follows the House version in that it does not include $26 million for locally identified economic development projects that were highlighted in Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget. That included a $1 million grant to the Appalachian Theatre, $500,000 for Blowing Rock streetscape project improvements and $11,000 for signage improvements in West Jefferson.

The “Raise the Age” mandate would receive all funding it required in the N.C. Senate version to fund seven deputy clerk positions that are effective on Jan. 1, 2020, and four district court judge positions effective on Jan. 1, 2021, after the general election of 2020.

The $30 million allocated for rural broadband in the N.C. House version, which Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) criticized as allowing what he called inadequate broadband to be used, was cut down to just over $500,000 in the two years.

The Senate includes $133,333 in funding each fiscal year for the Appalachian Energy Center at Appalachian State University.

HB966 now goes back to the N.C. House, which could either approve the state Senate’s changes or pass a different version. Once both sides agree on a budget, it would go to Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, for final approval. Cooper has previously vetoed the Republican-crafted state budget in 2017 and 2018, both of which were quickly overridden by the Republican super majorities.

However, the 2019-20 N.C. General Assembly does not have Republican super majorities. The N.C. Senate margins (29-18 and 30-16) would be veto-proof at more than 60 percent, but the 61-51 margin by which the budget passed in the N.C. House in its third reading would not meet the veto override standard.