LINVILLE — Ground was broken for the new additions to Cannon Memorial Hospital’s inpatient behavioral health unit during a ceremony at the hospital on the morning of June 4.
The project, which has been in the works for some time, will greatly expand the facility’s ability to meet behavioral health needs. Last year the facility was only able to admit about 500 patients and had to turn away another 4,500.
The project will add 27 behavioral health beds to the existing 10 beds at the critical access hospital. The need for behavioral beds contrasts with the hospital’s declining medical bed use. The facility only has about six medical patients admitted in a day, whereas the 10 behavioral beds remain at almost maximum capacity on a consistent basis.
Cannon Memorial President Carmen Lacey emphasized the behavioral health expansion is not impacting the level of medical service the hospital is offering.
The addition will add eight new medical beds in new construction and then convert old medical beds to behavioral health units.
“I am proud to say that we will continue to offer medical beds for admission, surgery, our diagnostic and rehabilitation services and a 24-hour emergency department,” Lacey said during a speech at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Construction is expected to finish two years from now, in June of 2021.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System received $6.5 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the project, but a regulation on critical access hospitals prevented a larger behavioral health facility and a medical facility from being housed in the same building.
Lacey credited U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx and Sen. Thom Tillis for working to receive the first exception in the country to that rule by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Lacey said the regulations, which were created in the 1980s, have become outdated and the 10-bed limit is arbitrary for meeting local care needs.
The project also received $2.4 million from the Morrison Charitable Trust and $2.1 million from The Blair Foundation.
The facility is the only behavioral health unit in a 40-mile radius, and the expansion will allow the facility to serve 1,500 patients, a 200 percent increase over the 500 it is typically able to admit annually at the current facility.
The addition is expected to create 58 jobs in the county, ranging from lower level technicians to physicians.
“Because we are expanding our behavioral health capacity, we’re better able to meet the needs of our community,” ARHS Behavioral Health Director Stephanie Greer said. “Those people who are working diligently to access care and can’t, and often have long waits in emergency departments for access to inpatient units. The expansion of these inpatient behavioral health beds will give us more of an opportunity to be incredibly responsive to those in need.”