By DAVID BORAKS
CORNELIUS – State officials have given Carolinas HealthCare System the go-ahead to build a $36 million behavioral health hospital at a site off N.C. 73 in Davidson, instead of a previously approved location on NC 115 in Huntersville. Meanwhile, a consultant for the Town of Davidson said Friday that although the non-profit hospital won’t create new property tax revenue, the project will bring millions of dollars in economic benefits through jobs and spending, and it could spark growth along the N.C. 73 corridor.
Community meeting on hospital rescheduled, again. See below.
Hospital officials also said Friday that after looking at the site’s topography, they’re now expecting to build a two-story building, instead of the one-story building described previously.
Hospital officials and the consultant discussed the hospital project Friday morning during the Lake Norman Chamber’s monthly Focus Friday issues session at the chamber offices in Cornelius.
CHS announced May 9 it plans to build the 66-bed hospital on 23 acres in the former Davidson East development, off N.C. 73/Davidson-Concord Road. CHS is buying the site from CommunityOne Bank, which foreclosed on the failed project 2 1/2 years ago. CHS chose the Davidson site after the Huntersville Town Board rejected its plan to build at NC 115 and Verhoeff Road.
The site also would get a second, 10,000-square-foot medical office building under the healthcare system’s proposal. CHS officials say they may decide in the future to seek approval for more beds on the site. The system’s Dr. Tom Gettelman said Friday the hospital most likely would seek to add beds for children.
State law requires the state to certify the need for new health care facilities like this one, and Carolinas Healthcare initially won approval for the Huntersville site last October. CHS applied to the state to transfer the certificate to the Davidson location.
Mary Beth Kuzmanovich, a vice president for facilities at Carolinas HealthCare System, told about 20 people at Friday’s meeting that the hospital has been notified that the N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation had approved the transfer. She said later that the notification came June 7.
The hospital’s 66 beds are moving to Mecklenburg County from Broughton Hospital, in Morganton, as the state shifts beds to local communities. Ms. Kuzmanovich said the move will fill a gap in beds for in-patient psychiatric care in the area. The hospital would serve patients with psychiatric problems that require round-the-clock care, people considered a danger to themselves, hospital officials said. It won’t provide care for substance abuse or those with criminal backgrounds.
CHS also has a similar 66-bed hospital at its CMC-Randolph site in Charlotte, which CHS says is operating at 110 percent of capacity. And there are numerous stories of mental health patients waiting in emergency rooms for beds to open up at a psychiatric hospital like this one.
“We know there is a huge unmet need across the state for in-patient psychiatric beds … and we also knows there is an unmet need for children,” she said.
The project has its critics, and Friday’s session appeared designed in part to answer those concerns. Some residents who live within a couple of miles of the site have focused on possible security risks. Dr. Gettelman said the hospital would be designed with two sets of locked doors for arriving patients, and would have security guards on duty 24 hours a day – two during daytime hours and one over night.
But Dr. Gettelman also emphasized that the risk is not that patients might leave the grounds and endanger nearby residents, but that they might hurt themselves. “The reality is the security is in place to protect the patients. They’re in an in-patient facility because they’re at risk to themselves. Our entire goal with inpatient treatment is to maintain patient safety,” he said. So the hospital is designed as a “safe, serene environment.”
The hospital’s opponents have circulated a report authored by an anonymous Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department officer claiming that police are called frequently to CHS’s CMC-Randolph hospital – more than 500 times a year. But Ms. Kuzmanovich said CHS has studied those numbers closely, and found that those figures include all 911 calls to the hospital and the surrounding Grier Heights neighborhood, whether they are related to the hospital’s work or not.
A more careful analysis shows that the actual number of calls to the hospital was 11 in one year, and 17 in another year, and many of those were not related to patient care. Instead, they included calls for people robbed at a bus stop, or who had their cars broken into in the parking lot.
Some Davidson residents have complained that the hospital does not fit the site’s zoning and will cost the town property tax revenue because of Carolinas HealthCare’s nonprofit, tax-exempt status.
The town asked development consultant Kathleen Rose, of Davidson-based Rose & Associates, to study the project and at Friday’s meeting, she offered a preliminary analysis of the hospital’s economic impact.
Based on the hospital’s plans for a $36 million, two-story building, Ms. Rose estimates the construction project would create about 411 construction jobs, with a payroll of about $25 million.
Once the hospital opens, its 155 jobs would generate $13 million a year in labor income, she said, and an estimated $3.2 million in new annual spending in the community. Each new job created at a site like this one “generates the need for additional services and jobs,” she said, as new retail businesses arrive to fill the need nearby.
She estimated the new hospital could bring as many as 238 new residents to town, who would generate $143,000 in new sales and hospitality tax revenues – primarily through spending at local shops and restaurants.
Meanwhile, Ms. Rose also noted that the hospital would be paying for needed infrastructure at and near the site, including water and sewer service and road improvements at the entrance to the hospital.
In the short term, the hospital could spur creation of some small businesses nearby, possibly 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of additional offices, as well as retail shops to serve the site. That could bring the town an additional $5,000 a year in property tax revenue for new development. She did acknowledged in response to a question that the hospital would cost the town tax revenues, too, when the 23-acre property becomes tax exempt.
She said the biggest potential benefit is hard to quantify right now: Whether the project spurs additional development on the former Davidson East site or other nearby properties. But she is optimistic: “Our feeling is it really provides a catalyst for some development out there. It really starts some activity that may attract other private sector investment,” Ms. Rose said.
COMMUNITY MEETING RESCHEDULED
A planned community meeting between Carolinas HealthCare System officials and opponents of the proposed hospital has been rescheduled yet again.
Organizers had tried for meetings on June 21 and then June 28, but conflicts have pushed the meeting off yet again. It’s now tentatively scheduled for Thursday, July 12, at 6:30 p.m., at a location to be announced. (Hospital officials said that date could change, too.) Carolinas HealthCare System staff will present plans and respond to questions. Other presentations are expected from citizens opposed to the hospital and from mental health advocates.
We’ll post updates about this meeting as more information becomes available, under the “Carolinas HealthCare System” tag.
Listen to an audio replay of the 6/22/12 Focus Friday forum with representatives from Carolinas HealthCare System and the Town of Davidson. Click the play button to start. Can’t see the player or hear the audio? CLICK HERE>
The forum is introduced by moderator Callan Bryan, chair of the Lake Norman Chamber’s issues committee. Mary Beth Kuzmanovich of Carolinas HealthCare System is the first up, followed by Dr. Tom Gettelman and economic consultant Kathleen Rose. (MP3, total time: 1 hour, 10 min., 38 sec)
NOTE: DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net are sponsors of the monthly Chamber Focus Friday events.