Clayton could get a hospital of its own

Medical center might morph into more; state should decide on inpatient beds by September

Staff WriterJune 21, 2008 

— If Clayton residents want to deliver a baby or have their colon checked, they must drive to hospitals in Smithfield or Raleigh, 13 to 15 miles away.

That will change if Clayton gets a full-service hospital in July 2010.

The state has approved the construction of a medical center on a 34-acre site off N.C. 42 near Amelia Church Road, to include an emergency room, a diagnostic lab and operating rooms. It should open by July 2009.

But Johnston Memorial Hospital recently asked the state for permission to include 27 inpatient beds at the center to accommodate longer stays and a greater number of medical procedures. The state is expected to decide by September. About 40 area residents and members of the medical community gathered at a hearing Friday at Clayton's Hocutt-Ellington Library to support the idea.

"Nobody wants to travel far for medical care," said Rob Dawkins a physician at Horizon Family Medicine in Clayton.

A groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday marked the beginning of construction on the approved phases of the medical center.

The ceremony also unofficially swept in a name change. Officials are beginning to shed the "Johnston Memorial Hospital" name. They are calling the Clayton site "Johnston Medical Center -- Clayton" and the main campus "Johnston Medical Center -- Smithfield."

"That just reflects our transition from a single entity to a countywide health system," hospital spokeswoman Suzette Rodriguez said.

Some Smithfield residents have been less than overjoyed that the hospital is moving beds from Smithfield to Clayton, she said. Originally, Johnston Memorial won state approval to add 24 beds to the roughly 155 acute-care beds on its main campus. The hospital is building a five-story tower and renovating a section of the hospital. It also planned on overhauling rooms in a 56-year-old building. But then officials realized it would be more cost-effective to move 27 beds to Clayton.

"It's a 1950s building," CEO Kevin Rogols said. "We've got beds that don't have private bathrooms."

To rip out rooms and redo plumbing would be expensive, Rogols said, and a new facility in Clayton would have a longer life.

If approved, the acute-care facility in Clayton also would allow for easy expansion. That may be needed soon. Clayton is the fastest-growing town in the 58th-fastest-growing county in the nation.

peggy.lim@newsobserver.com or (919) 836-5799

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