Novant wins approval to move operating room in Franklin County

sbarr@newsobserver.comMay 13, 2014 

— Novant Health plans to redistribute its Franklin County operating rooms, an effort hospital officials say will increase patients’ access to care but one some local critics view with skepticism.

The company, which has headquarters in Winston-Salem, won approval late last month from state regulators to close a rarely used operating room at the Franklin Medical Center in Louisburg and open an additional operating room at an outpatient surgery center in Youngsville, just miles from the Wake County line and the area’s fast-growing population.

The redistribution would leave two operating rooms at the medical center and allow for two at the yet-to-be built surgery center.

Novant officials said the third operating room at Franklin is not in regular use for patient care and is primarily a storage facility. Franklin County’s residents need better access to outpatient facilities, in addition to hospital-based care, they said.

But town officials in Louisburg worry Novant is most concerned with attracting Wake County patients and that those in Franklin could be left behind.

“They’re just trying to get as close as they can,” said Boyd Sturges, an attorney and member of the Louisburg Town Council.

Town officials also worry the move is the first step in closing the hospital, a long-standing concern for them, Sturges said.

Jody Morris, president of the Franklin Medical Center, said Novant has “no plans” to move services out of the hospital.

“Relocating our third, rarely used operating room will have no negative impact on the amount or quality of surgical services offered at Franklin Medical Center,” he said in a emailed statement.

Officials from Granville Health System, Rex Healthcare, WakeMed Health & Hospitals, all nearby Novant competitors, also opposed the plan in comments to the state last year.

Like Louisburg officials, Granville Health questioned whether the redistribution is part of a larger effort to move the hospital and said the change would threaten the stability of their health system.

Rex and WakeMed officials raised questions about the population and surgery volume projections Novant submitted with its application to justify the relocation.

Rex officials said in their comments that Novant should stick with its original plan to open one operating room in Youngsville and then determine whether an increase in use required a second OR.

Opponents of the plan have until May 29 to appeal the decision. If no appeal is filed, Novant expects to open the surgery center in the fall of 2016.

The state’s Health and Human Services Department administers the Certificate of Need approval process for new health care services or facilities. Regulators there evaluate whether new health care services or facilities would lead to unnecessary increases in health care costs.

State approval for Novant’s operating room came with conditions, such as a timetable for completion, which is typical.

Barr: 919-836-4952; Twitter: @barrmsarah

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