By Clellie Allen
YOUNGSVILLE — The Youngsville library was packed out Thursday with folks looking to weigh in on Novant Health’s application to relocate an operating room from Novant Health Franklin Regional Medical Center (FRMC) in Louisburg to an already approved but as-yet unbuilt free standing surgical center to be located in Youngsville.
According to Novant petitioners, the operating room at FRMC is currently underused and functions more as a storage room than anything else. They are hoping that by moving it, it will make the surgical center more viable than it would be with just one operating and treatment room. It would also give Franklin County residents, and possibly even northern Wake County folks, an option for outpatient surgical care not currently available.
Jody Morris, chief operating officer for FRMC pointed to the more than 5,000 outpatient surgeries done outside of Franklin County each year.
Outpatient surgery in a free-standing clinic is generally far less expensive than the same surgery done in a hospital. But with Franklin County not having a free-standing outpatient surgical option, patients are choosing to go elsewhere.
Morris, and the vast majority of the nearly 75 folks crammed into the meeting room, trailing down the hallway and spilling over into the parking lot, would like to see the majority of those surgeries stay in Franklin County.
Louisburg resident Joseph Stafford spoke in favor of the move from a personal standpoint. Just a month prior, he had to leave the county to have surgery. He said he has to have another surgery in the next few months and will have to leave again.
“Franklin County is still a one-horse town,” Stafford said. “What can Franklin County give back to the people?”
Twenty-four residents offered their comments to Tanya Rupp, the project analyst in the Certificate of Need (CON) Section of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s not including six speakers who were associated with Novant and spoke during the opening and closing statements.
Out of the 24, only four asked the CON Section to deny Novant’s request.
The mayor of Louisburg, Karl Pernell, spoke of his concern that Novant’s request to relocate the one room was really an opening salvo to try and move the hospital itself, again.
Louisburg Councilwoman Mary Green Johnson echoed those concerns as did Louisburg resident Alvin Batchelor, referring to the 2007 CON that was filed by FRMC’s then-owner, Health Management Associates (HMA) to move the hospital from Louisburg to a site near the intersection of N.C. 96 and U.S. 1. At that time, Rex Healthcare joined with HMA in applying for approval to move.
Thursday, Rex’s representative, Tom Williams, Vice President of Ambulatory Services, was decidedly against Novant receiving approval. He cited “consistency” concerns — since the state didn’t see the need to allow the hospital to move in 2007, they should not allow Novant to relocate the unused operating room.
Rex Healthcare opened a surgery center in Wakefield in 2009, just eight miles from Youngsville town center.
Lifelong Franklin County resident Peggy McGee, however, said, “The best possible medical care for Franklin County should be the number one goal,” adding that she was in favor of the petition.
“If 85 percent of our residents are going out for outpatient surgery, then we are obviously not providing the best medical care,” she said.
“For those who think (the petition) is a ploy to move the entire hospital, can we please cross that bridge when we get to it? It should not stop us now,” she added.
In an effort to reassure concerns that FRMC would try to move, Morris pointed to the investments Novant has made in the hospital and community, specifically the $2.8 million geriatric behavioral heath unit and $3 million in charity care it donated last year.
Rupp did not say when the final decision would be made, however the public notice for the hearing stated that the proposed project was expected to cost $6.1 million and be completed by Oct. 2016.