By DAVID BORAKS
Carolinas HealthCare System said Wednesday it will build a $36 million, 66-bed mental health hospital on part of the former Davidson East site, off N.C. 73 east of Davidson, to fill what it says is a need for behavioral health care in the Lake Norman region.
The hospital and a planned medical office building next door would bring 155 jobs to Davidson when it opens in late 2013. And town officials say it could help spur further development of a failed development site that has occupied planners and commissioners for several years.
The Davidson East site was a second choice for the Charlotte-based non-profit CHS after it failed to win approval for the project on land it already owned on N.C. 115 in Huntersville. The Huntersville Town Board in March voted against rezoning for a site off N.C. 115 at Verhoeff Drive.
The proposed Davidson project won’t need additional zoning approvals. Davidson’s Town Board in September 2011 rezoned the property to allow for what planners called “flex campus” development, which could include a health care facility like this one.
And unlike the Huntersville site, which was surrounded by a neighborhood of single-family homes, there are few homes next to the land.
CommunityOne Bank owns most of the 180-acre former Davidson East site, which it acquired through foreclosure when the mixed-use project failed. Carolinas HealthCare System said it has an agreement with the bank to buy 23 acres on the east side of the site – a parcel that runs from NC 73 north into the property.
The purchase price was not announced. But the project unveiled Wednesday is about $3 million higher than what CHS planned to spend to build on land it already owned in Huntersville.
The land is on the north side of N.C. 73 east of town, about one quarter mile east of Ramah Church Road and not far from Bradford Park. CHS plans to build a one-story, 67,280-square-foot hospital and a 10,000-square-foot medical office building on the site. CHS said the hospital would have “large activity and living areas that will open to self-contained landscaped courtyards for outdoor recreation in a private, secure environment.”
Carolinas HealthCare had been looking for a site for a new behavioral health hospital for several years, because of reductions at state-owned facilities and growth in the need for care in the Charlotte region.
The hospital system says the state-permitted beds are being transferred from in-patient psychiatric beds currently at Broughton Hospital in Morganton.
Mental health patients currently have limited options in the Charlotte region: The 66-bed CMC Randolph and 75-bed Presbyterian behavioral health hospitals in Charlotte are the only ones of their kind in the area, and both are at or beyond capacity, hospital officials said. That leaves many patients to find care at other kinds of facilities.
“The need for expanded services is so urgent,” Dr. Roger Ray, CHS’s chief medical officer, said during an announcement Wednesday at the Lake Norman Chamber.
“Mecklenburg County has had a shortage of behavioral health beds for years. This has led to constant challenges in terms of overcrowding, over-reliance on emergency rooms and acute care hospitals throughout the area. They are just not ideal for meeting the needs of behavioral health patients,” he said.
Carolinas HealthCare System already has state approval – called a certificate of need – to build the new hospital on the Huntersville site. Mary Beth Kuzmanovich of Davidson, a CHS vice president for facilities management, said the group planned to file a request with state officials Wednesday to shift the project to the new site.
That approval could take up to 75 days she said. If that goes as planned, construction would begin in July and the hospital could be open in the third quarter of 2013.
Davidson Mayor John Woods said he approached CHS when the original Huntersville plan ran into opposition from neighbors and some Huntersville town officials.
“We appreciate the great need for mental health facilities in our community,” Mayor Woods said. He said CHS could have found land elsewhere in the county, but ended up picking the Davidson site.
“The fact that we have encouraged them and helped them find a site that meets their needs, both accessible-wise and cost-wise, I think it’s a very large plus not just for Davidson, but for the entire north Mecklenburg community.”
The fact that the land was already zoned appropriately was important as CHS tried to get the project back on track, hospital and town officials said Tuesday.
One potential downside, at least financially, for Davidson is the loss of another 23 acres of current taxable property to a tax-exempt non-profit organization that will build a development requiring town services. The exact financial impact wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday.
Mayor Woods said the town and CHS had not discussed that impact, or discussed any potential payment in lieu of taxes. He said bringing a development and jobs to the town trumped those concerns.
“Honestly we felt that the opportunities involving ancillary development and the meeting of a really drastic need in our region overweighed that,” he said.
“We also hope, frankly, that this is the beginning of a corporate campus development (at Davidson East), just as we have rezoned it about six months ago,” he said.
Town Manager Leamon Brice agreed that the loss of tax revenue was not an issue. “We felt like maybe the jobs would make up for that, and that the spinoff that we would anticipate coming from it would be taxpaying,” he said.
Wednesday’s announcement raises new questions about one longstanding Town Hall headache involving the Davidson East site. Owner CommunityOne Bank still has a lawsuit pending against the town, and it was unclear if the hospital proposal changes the situation. Among other things, the bank has argued that the rezoning is not economically viable.
March 6, 2012, CorneliusNews.net, “Huntersville board rejects mental health hospital.”
Jan. 12, 2012, DavidsonNews.net, Town seeks dismissal of bank lawsuit over rezoning.”
Oct. 29, 2011, CorneliusNews.net, “State OKs mental health hospital in Huntersville”
Sept. 14, 2011, “After 9 months, board OKs new Davidson East zoning.”
Here’s the full text of Wednesday’s announcement:
Carolinas HealthCare System Chooses Davidson Site For New Behavioral Health Hospital
New Facility and Services Help Address Unmet Community Need
CHARLOTTE, NC, May 9, 2012 – Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) has chosen a site in Davidson, N.C. for a new 66-bed behavioral health hospital.
“We are eager to move forward with this project and begin building on our promise to provide more behavioral health services for those who desperately need them in our community,” said Dr. Roger Ray, Chief Medical Officer of CHS. “This new hospital will help us address a profound, unmet need in a professional, respectful, patient centric environment.”
The state of North Carolina began down-sizing state psychiatric hospitals following the passage of the Mental Health Reform Act of 2001. To date, about half of the state-operated hospital beds have closed. Mecklenburg County is experiencing a serious shortage of available beds for behavioral health patients, which results in some patients being held in observation in hospital emergency departments or acute care beds while waiting for placement.
The new facility will include a single-story, 67,280-square-foot hospital with large activity and living areas that will open to self-contained landscaped courtyards for outdoor recreation in a private, secure environment. The 23-acre site also will have a medical office building with 10,000 square feet. CHS and the land owner have an agreement for the sale of the property, which is on Hwy. 73 about a quarter-mile east of Ramah Church Road.
The hospital will feature all private rooms and will employ about 155 full time staff, including physicians and other clinicians. The design will allow expansion by adding a second floor if a future need is determined, and if additional beds are approved by the NC Division of Health Service Regulation. Total estimated cost is about $36 million.
John Woods, Mayor of Davidson, said that the town board is solidly behind the project. “We couldn’t be more thrilled at the prospect of having a quality facility such as this one in the town of Davidson,” Woods said. “Our community already benefits from other CHS services, including physician practices. We know the kind of commitment CHS and its employees make to the community. We believe this new project will be a model for behavioral healthcare, not just for Davidson but for the entire region.”
“Our emergency rooms and inpatient medical beds are getting backed up with patients whose needs are better met in a mental health facility,” said Dr. Thomas Batchelor, an internist in Huntersville. “Many of these patients wait days to weeks in the ER for an inpatient mental health bed to open. The trickle down effect is enormous and even affects my care of patients in the outpatient setting. This is a national problem but I have seen it first hand locally.”
“The reality today is that many people in our community are in a state of crisis and need the help and assistance that the behavioral health hospital will bring,” said the Rev. Farrell Lemmings, lead pastor at Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius.
“At times life gets difficult and we find ourselves overwhelmed emotionally and the quality of our lives and our families are detrimentally affected. At these times we need the professional help that qualified personnel can bring. Just as our other hospitals play a role in the health of our community so I believe the behavioral health hospital will be an asset as well.”
Dr. Ray said the new hospital will be patient-focused to deliver excellent care for behavioral health patients and their families. “We are very excited that the town of Davidson recognized the importance of this facility and understands it will be a tremendous compliment to the community.” Dr. Ray said. “This hospital and the highly-professional staff in Davidson will create a peaceful, healing environment for those patients who deserve the very best in behavioral healthcare.”
The new site is close to several CHS facilities in the north Mecklenburg and Lake Norman area, including Huntersville and Cornelius. The site provides easy access to I-77 and I-85 via Hwy. 73, and will allow CHS to provide a continuum of care in conjunction with its other facilities.
The new hospital will serve a broad range of patients who suffer from chronic mental health disorders or have more acute, episodic needs such as psychotic, mood or anxiety disorders. It also will offer outpatient behavioral health services in a separate, dedicated building specifically designed for outpatient care and therapy.
As stated in the original Certificate of Need application approved by the N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation (NCDHSR), the 66 beds will be a transfer of inpatient psychiatric beds from Broughton Hospital in Morganton (Burke County). Transfers of psychiatric beds are occurring in other communities across the state pursuant to a state policy encouraging the transfer of beds from state psychiatric hospitals to community facilities.
CHS will ask the NCDHSR for approval to move the site to Davidson from the previous location in Huntersville, N.C. Pending state approval of the request, site preparation and construction could begin this summer, with completion in the second half of 2013. A zoning request for the original site planned in Huntersville was not approved by the Huntersville Board of Commissioners. The Davidson site does not require re-zoning.
FAQ – Carolinas HealthCare Behavioral Health Hospital
1. What has been proposed for a behavioral health facility in Davidson?
Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) plans to build a 66-bed behavioral health hospital on Hwy. 73, about a quarter-mile east of Ramah Church Road.
2. Why is CHS building a behavioral health hospital?
The new hospital will help us address an urgent, unmet need in a facility designed exclusively for patients who may be experiencing difficult personal situations. The project is in keeping with the CHS mission of providing services to improve the health and wellness of the community.
CMC-Randolph, the existing behavioral health hospital in Charlotte, has 66 beds and is operating at 110 percent of capacity, so the need for additional beds in Mecklenburg County is clear.
A state-of-the-art behavioral health hospital will provide the very best care for patients and families who have immediate needs.
3. What must happen before construction can begin?
The NC Division of Health Service Regulation (NCDHSR) has approved the facility but the original location was to be in Huntersville. CHS will ask the NCDHSR for approval to move the site to Davidson from the previous location in Huntersville.
4. When might construction start?
The NCDHSR has up to 75 days to render its decision, which means it could come by mid-July. If the state approves the new location, site preparation could begin by late July, with completion of the facility scheduled in the second half of 2013.